“The Secret Woman” and its take on Relationship Insecurities

“The Secret Woman” by Colette is a short story that follows an insecure husband’s journey of trying to catch his wife in the midst of an affair at an opera house. The husband, originally scheduled to go to the show with his wife, lies about a work commitment and disguises himself before showing up to the opera house.

The story follows the numerous encounters his wife has with other people at the showing, and documents the husbands anxiety and (in a way) hope that his suspicion about his wife is correct. Thankfully, (although she kisses another man) by the end of the story, the husband is relieved to find out that his wife is not having an affair.

To truly digest the level of insecurity and lack of faith that the husband had in his wife’s loyalty to their relationship, it is important to see his reaction to each event.

She’s here for someone, with someone. In less than an hour I’ll know everything.”

The surety in which the husband expects his wife to have an affair with someone else emphasizes how insecurities can warp rational thinking into a twisted reality. As readers we come to find out that the husbands theories are all false, yet for a majority of the story, we are convinced that the wife is unfaithful.

Her husband ran a few steps and reached the couple just as Irene was crying flatteringly, “You big brute!”

This is an example of how the husband jumps to conclusions about his wife’s actions with other people. The lack of trust in their relationship leads the husband to believe that his wife receiving a hug in a crowded opera house by a mysterious man must be evidence of cheating, even though his wife was the one being harassed.

She went down the steps, placed her hand on the shoulders of a warrior who asked her, silently, to dance, and she danced, clinging to him.
“That’s the man,” the husband said to himself.

Following this interaction the husband realizes that his wife didn’t say a word to the warrior after dancing, and promptly left. This 3rd false alarm in the row seemed to finally effect the husband and cause him to think more about the problems on his end. Why is he so insecure about his relationship? Why doesn’t he posses the trust in his wife?

This realization seemed to happen at a very confusing time, right after the man witnesses his wife kissing another tired man who is resting on a bench after heavy dancing.

This time, however, instead of jumping to a conclusion and interrupting the two, he decides to reflect on both of their actions. The last paragraph of the story documents the change in the man’s mentality, and leaves the reader happy with the progression and knowledge that the husband has gained.

In his consternation he no longer feared, no longer hoped for betrayal. He was sure now that Irene did not know the young man, drunk with dancing, who she was kissing, nor the Hercules; he was sure that she was was neither waiting nor looking for anyone, and that abandoning the lips she held beneath her own like an empty grape, she was going to leave again the next moment, wander about once more, collect some other passer-by, forget him, and simply enjoy, until she felt tired and went back home, the monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude, native state, of being the unknown woman, eternally solitary and shameless, restored to her irremediable solitude and immodest innocence by a little mask and a concealing costume.

3 thoughts on ““The Secret Woman” and its take on Relationship Insecurities

  1. Rohan W

    I agree with your take on the husband’s actions but I was bothered by the fact that since the story is from his perspective, it’s unclear how rational he was to begin with. Did his suspicions have any basis or is he really just paranoid and controlling of his wife? While it’s great he felt relief that his wife was not having an affair, it would be interesting to see the wife’s perspective.

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  2. Sam B.

    I definitely agree with the husband’s unnecessary anxiousness and I also loved seeing his character development, going from paranoid to reflective. But I also think it’s important to think about if the husband had a reason to be this paranoid. Did something happen that wasn’t in the story or maybe before he got married? I think it would be cool to learn more about his life and maybe find out why he was so stern that his wife was having an affair.

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  3. Owen S

    I agree with you on how the husband keeps jumping to false conclusions about his wife. I wonder why he was reacting the way he did and what could have happened. The liked how you included multiple quotes as it definitely helped explain your argument. I also wonder why he seemed almost alright with how his wife was still cheating on him by kissing other guys.

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