Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Colette, considered the premier French woman novelist of the early twentieth century, began her career by writing, in the Claudine novels, stories of her girlhood. She went on to produce other novels, novellas, short stories, sketches, and memoirs. Among her most famous works are Chéri (1920; English translation, 1929) and Gigi (1944; English translation, 1952), a collection of four short stories, the title story of which was made into a play and a popular film.

In The Other One, one of her last major novels, Colette explores a theme that appears in many of her works: the relationship between a woman and her unfaithful husband. Colette, who was fascinated with the effect of infidelity on a marriage, examines the tensions created by such situations. In a variation on the theme of jealousy, Colette focuses on the relationship between Farou’s wife, Fanny, and Jane, his secretary and occasional mistress. Instead of dealing with themes of hatred or revenge, Colette shows the strength and endurance of the women, who bond together for survival.

The autobiographical nature of Colette’s writing is evident in the novel. At the age of twenty, Colette had married Henri Gauthier-Villars, who wrote under the pen name Willy and remained a strong influence in her life. Like Farou, Willy, a well-known figure in literary and theatrical circles, engaged in extramarital affairs, one of which bore a resemblance to the situation in the novel. When she learned of Willy’s affair with Charlotte Kinceler, Colette befriended the other woman and occasionally met with Willy and Charlotte.

The other strong influence in Colette’s life was Sido, her mother. As Willy was the symbol of male sexuality, Sido became the symbol of female strength. In The Other One, the two women emerge as stronger than the man, implying that a woman’s basic identity is found in relationships with other women.

The relationship between a wife and her husband’s mistress lies at the heart of the novel. Fanny has long accepted her husband’s other women, but Jane has a difficult time dealing with his infidelities. Fanny is secure in her role as wife and as the most important woman in Farou’s life, but Jane plays an increasingly minor part in his life. Jane, like many of Colette’s characters, exists on the fringe of society. Unlike Fanny, who is defined by her attachment to her husband, Jane is the unmarried secretary; she is replaceable, and she depends on Farou for her...

(The entire section is 1028 words.)