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ART, Camus Albert, English, Literature, Philosophy

The Adulterous Woman : Albert Camus / Pierre Boncompain

Black-Venus-on-Blue-Background-by-Pierre-Boncompain

A HOUSEFLY had been circling for the last few minutes in the bus, though the windows were closed. An odd sight here, it had been silently flying back and forth on tired wings. Janine lost track of it, then saw it light on her husband’s motionless hand. The weather was cold. The fly shuddered with each gust of sandy wind that scratched against the windows. In the meager light of the winter morning, with a great fracas of sheet metal and axles, the vehicle was rolling,pitching, and making hardly any progress. Janine looked at her husband. With wisps of graying hair growing low on a narrow forehead, a broad nose, a flabby mouth, Marcel looked like a pouting faun. At each hollow in the pavement she felt him jostle against her. Then his heavy torso would slump back on his widespread legs and he would become inert again and absent, with vacant stare. Nothing about him seemed active but his thick hairless hands, made even shorter by the flannel underwear extending below his cuffs and covering his wrists. His hands were holding so tight to a little canvas suitcase set between his knees that they appeared not to feel the fly’s halting progress.

Suddenly the wind was distinctly heard to howl and the gritty fog surrounding the bus became even thicker. The sand now struck the windows in packets as if hurled by invisible hands. The fly shook a chilled wing, flexed its legs, and took flight. The bus slowed and seemed on the point of stopping. But the wind apparently died down, the fog lifted slightly, and the vehicle resumed speed. Gaps of light opened up in the dust-drowned land-scape. Two or three frail, whitened palm trees which seemed cut out of metal flashed into sight in the window only to disappear the next moment. “What a country!” Marcel said.

The bus was full of Arabs pretending to sleep, shrouded in their burnooses. Some had folded their legs on the seat and swayed more than the others in the car’s motion. Their silence and impassivity began to weigh upon Janine; it seemed to her as if she had been traveling for days with that mute escort. Yet the bus had left only at dawn from the end of the rail line and for two
hours in the cold morning it had been advancing on a stony, desolate, plateau which, in the beginning at least, extended its straight lines all the way to reddish horizons. But the wind had risen and gradually swallowed up the vast expanse. From that moment on, the passengers had seen nothing more; one after an-other, they had ceased talking and were silently progressing in a
sort of sleepless night, occasionally wiping their lips and eyes irritated by the sand that filtered into the car.

“Janine!” She gave a start at her husband’s call. Once again she thought how ridiculous that name was for someone tall and sturdy like her. Marcel wanted to know where his sample case was. With her foot she explored the empty space under the seat and encountered an object which she decided must be it. She could not stoop over without gasp-ing somewhat. Yet in school she had won the first prize in gymnastics and hadn’t known what it was to be winded. Was that so long ago? Twenty-five years. Twenty-five years were nothing, for it seemed to her only yesterday when she was hesitating between an independent life and marriage, just yesterday when she was thinking anxiously of the time she might be growing old alone. She was not alone
and that law-student who always wanted to be with her was now at her side. She had eventually accepted him although he was a little shorter than she and she didn’t much like his eager, sharp laugh or his black protruding eyes. But she liked his courage in facing up to life, which he shared with all the French of this country. She also liked his crestfallen look when events or men failed to live up to his expectations. Above all, she liked being loved, and he had showered her with attentions. By so often making her aware that she existed for him he made her exist in reality.
No, she was not alone…

The bus, with many loud honks, was plowing its way through invisible obstacles. Inside the car, however, no one stirred. Janine suddenly felt some-one staring at her and turned toward the seat across the aisle. He was not an Arab, and she was surprised not to have noticed him from the beginning. He was wearing the uniform of the French regiments of the Sahara and an unbleached linen cap above his tanned face, long and pointed like a jackal’s. His gray eyes were examining her with a sort of glum disapproval, in a fixed stare. She suddenly blushed and turned back to her husband, who was still looking straight ahead in the fog and wind. She snuggled down in her coat. But she could still see the French soldier, long and thin, so thin in his fitted tunic that he seemed constructed of a dry, friable material, a mixture of sand and bone. Then it was that she saw the thin hands and burned faces of the Arabs in front of her and noticed that they seemed to have plenty of room, despite their ample garments, on the seat where she and her husband felt wedged in. She pulled her coat around her knees. Yet she wasn’t so fat—tall and well rounded rather, plump and still desirable, as she was well aware when men looked at her, with her rather childish face, her bright, naïve eyes contrasting with this big body she knew to be warm and inviting.

Le rocking chair

No, nothing had happened as she had expected. When Marcel had wanted to take her along on his trip she had protested. For some time he had been thinking of this trip—since the end of the war, to be precise, when business had returned to normal. Before the war the small dry goods business he had taken over from his parents on giving up his study of law had provided a fairly good living. On the coast the years of youth can be happy ones. But he didn’t much like physical effort and very soon had given up taking her to the beaches. The little car took them out of town solely for the Sunday afternoon ride. The rest of the time he preferred his shop full of multicolored piece-goods shaded by the arcades of this half-native, half-Euro-pean quarter.
Above the shop they lived in three rooms furnished with Arab hangings and furniture from the Galerie Barbès. They had not had children. The years had passed in the semi-darkness be-hind the half-closed shutters. Summer, the beaches, excursions, the mere sight of the sky were things of the past. Nothing seemed to interest Marcel but business. She felt she had discovered his true pas-sion to be money, and, without really knowing why, she didn’t like that. After all, it was to her advantage. Far from being miserly, he was generous, especially where she was concerned.
“If something happened to me,” he used to say, “you’d be provided for.”

And, in fact, it is essential to provide for one’s needs. But for all the rest, for what is not the most elementary need,
how to provide? This is what she felt vaguely, at infrequent intervals. Meanwhile she helped Marcel keep his books and occasionally substituted for him in the shop. Summer was always the hardest, when the heat stifled even the sweet sensation of boredom.

Suddenly, in summer as it happened, the war, Marcel called up then rejected on grounds of health, the scarcity of piece-goods, business at a standstill, the streets empty and hot. If something happened now, she would no longer be provided for. This is why, as soon as piece goods came back on the market, Marcel had thought of covering the villages of the Upper Plateaus and of the South himself in order to do without a middleman and sell directly to the Arab merchants. He had wanted to take her along. She knew that travel was difficult, she had trouble breathing, and she would have preferred staying at home.

But he was obstinate and she had accepted because it would have taken too much energy to refuse. Here they were and, truly, nothing was like what she had imagined. She had feared the heat, the swarms of flies, the filthy hotels reeking of aniseed. She had not thought of the cold, of the biting wind, of these semi-polar plateaus cluttered with moraines. She had dreamed too of palm trees and soft sand. Now she saw that the desert was not that at all, but merely stone, stone everywhere, in the sky full of nothing but stone-dust, rasping and cold, as on the ground, where nothing grew among the stones except dry grasses.

The bus stopped abruptly. The driver shouted a few words in that language she had heard all her life without ever understanding it. “What’s the matter?” Marcel asked. The driver, in French this time, said that the sand must have clogged the carburetor, and again Marcel cursed this country. The driver laughed hilariously and asserted that it was nothing, that he would clean the
carburetor and they’d be off again. He opened the door and the cold wind blew into the bus, lashing their faces with a myriad grains of sand. All the Arabs silently plunged their noses into their burnooses and huddled up. “Shut the door,” Marcel shouted. The driver laughed as he came back to the door. With-out hurrying, he took some tools from under the dashboard, then,
tiny in the fog, again disappeared ahead without closing the door. Marcel sighed. “You may be sure he’s never seen a motor in his life.” “Oh, be quiet!” said Janine. Suddenly she gave a start.

On the shoulder of the road close to the bus, draped forms were standing still. Under the burnoose’s hood and behind a rampart of veils, only their eyes were visible. Mute, come from no-where, they were staring at the travelers. “Shepherds,” Marcel said. Inside the car there was total silence. All the passengers, heads lowered, seemed to be listening to the voice of the wind loosed across these endless plateaus. Janine was all of a sudden struck by the almost complete absence of luggage. At the end of the railroad line the driver had hoisted their trunk and a few bundles onto the roof. In the racks in-side the bus could be seen nothing but gnarled sticks and shopping-baskets. All these people of the South apparently were traveling empty-handed.

But the driver was coming back, still brisk. His eyes alone were laughing above the veils with which he too had masked his face. He announced that they would soon be under way. He closed the door, the wind became silent, and the rain of sand on the windows could be heard better. The motor coughed and died. After having been urged at great length by the starter, it finally sparked
and the driver raced it by pressing on the gas. With a big hiccough the bus started off. From the ragged clump of shepherds, still motionless, a hand rose and then faded into the fog behind them.
Almost at once the vehicle began to bounce on the road, which had become worse. Shaken up, the Arabs constantly swayed. Nonetheless, Janine was feel-ing overcome with sleep when there suddenly appeared in front of her a little yellow box filled with lozenges. The jackal soldier was smiling at her. She hesitated, took one, and thanked him. The jackal pocketed the box
and simultaneously swallowed his smile. Now he was staring at the road, straight in front of him. Janine turned toward Marcel and saw only the solid back of his neck. Through the window he
was watching the denser fog rising from the crumbly embankment.

They had been traveling for hours and fatigue had extinguished all life in the car when shouts burst forth outside. Children wearing burnooses, whirling like tops, leaping, clapping their hands,
were running around the bus. It was now going down a long street lined with low houses; they were entering the oasis. The wind was still blow-ing, but the walls intercepted the grains of sand
which had previously cut off the light. Yet the sky was still cloudy.

Amidst shouts, in a great screech-ing of brakes, the bus stopped in front of the adobe arcades of a hotel with dirty
windows. Janine got out and, once on the pavement, staggered. Above the houses she could see a slim yellow minaret. On her left rose the first palm trees of the oasis, and she would have liked to go toward them. But al-though it was close to noon, the cold was bitter; the wind made her shiver. She turned toward Marcel and saw the soldier coming toward her. She was expecting
him to smile or salute. He passed without looking at her and disappeared. Marcel was busy getting down the trunk of piece–goods, a black foot-locker perched on the bus’s roof. It would
not be easy. The driver was the only one to take care of the luggage and he had al-ready stopped, standing on the roof, to hold forth to the circle of burnooses gathered around the bus. Janine,
surrounded with faces that seemed cut out of bone and leather, besieged by guttural shouts, suddenly became aware of her fatigue. “I’m going in,” she said to Marcel, who was shouting impatiently at the driver.

She entered the hotel. The manager, a thin, laconic Frenchman, came to meet her. He led her to a second-floor balcony overlooking the street and into a room which seemed to have but an iron bed, a white-enameled chair, an uncurtained wardrobe, and, behind a rush screen, a washbasin covered with fine sand-dust. When the manager had closed the door, Janine felt the cold
coming from the bare, whitewashed walls. She didn’t know where to put her bag, where to put herself. She had either to lie down or to remain standing, and to shiver in either case. She
remained standing, holding her bag and staring at a sort of window-slit that opened onto the sky near the ceiling.

She was waiting, but she didn’t know for what. She was aware only of her solitude, and of the penetrating cold, and of a greater weight in the region of her heart. She was in fact dreaming, almost deaf to the sounds rising from the street along with Marcel’s vocal
out-bursts, more aware on the other hand of that sound of a river coming from the window-slit and caused by the wind in the palm trees, so close now, it seemed to her. Then the wind seemed
to increase and the gentle ripple of waters became a hissing of waves. She imagined, beyond the walls, a sea of erect, flexible palm trees unfurling in the storm. Nothing was like what she had
expected, but those invisible waves refreshed her tired eyes. She was standing, heavy, with dangling arms, slightly stooped, as the cold climbed her thick legs. She was dreaming of the
erect and flexible palm trees and of the girl she had once been.

pierre  boncompain 6

The Adulterous Woman or La Femme Adultère en français is a short story about a woman who struggles with her own existence, happiness and strained relationship with her husband.

Through one small flirtatious encounter, a long period of self-reflection, self-criticism and a sensuous trip to a fort she reaches her symbolic(not physical in any way) adultery.

The story is a reference to John 8:3-11 in the KJV of the Bible.

An adulterous woman is brought before Jesus. In those days the punishment was death via stoning. Jesus says whoever is free some sin may throw the first stone, and gradually everyone leaves.

This highlights Camus’ ideas of judgement. He believed that no one can judge another since no one is innocent.

by Justin O’brien

White bedroom

She was waiting, but she didn’t know for what. She was aware only of her solitude, and of the penetrating cold, and of a greater weight in the region of her heart.’Camus’s writing confronts the great philosophical dilemmas of our time with piercing clarity. These three powerful and evocative stories are heavy with the weight of the human condition, and rich with atmosphere. In them, an ageing labourer, a woman travelling in North Africa with her husband, and a schoolteacher tasked with transporting a prisoner each face their own moral crises.This book contains The Adulterous Woman, The Silent Men and The Guest.

 

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Pierre Boncompain 

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