American author, musician and writer Daniel Harris’ episodic novella “The Judge’s Wife” narrates a story about Margaux the attractive wife of a powerful judge, and Jack, a n artist, writer, and sculptor. The story is written in an omniscient third-person narrative.
The Judge’s Wife | Summary
The story opens with the narrator introducing Margaux as a regular at the gym in which the story mostly takes place. An attractive, well-dressed, middle-aged woman, she would come to work out at the gym filled with politicians and lawyers, all buzzing around her to talk. The narrator now introduces Jack, another regular at the gym who only gets to know Margaux’s name after he’s been going there for two years. He was a loner, and preferred to come and go without interacting much with anyone. As Jack befriends a powerful lawyer, he gets to know Margaux’s name, as well as her identity as the wife of a powerful state judge, with two grown-up children.
One morning, the gym suddenly experiences a power cut as Jack and Margaux were on adjacent cardio machines. Letting her hair down, she asks Jack what he does. Initially confused about how to answer, he tells her that he is a retired musician who had to give up his musical career after a car accident that broke half the bones in his body. As they exchange names, Margo tells Jack that she has been married to her husband for 33 years. Jack remarks that it ‘sounds comfortable’, implying that it sounds boring. As the power comes back, they part ways.
A week later, Margaux comes up to him and rebukes him for not telling her sooner that he has been the author of The SoHo Quartet, and Jack replies that she didn’t ask. Margaux tells him that she has read the second book of the quartet, and was moved to tears by the end of it. As Jack tells him that the protagonist, Francesco Martinelli, is based on a painter friend, Margaux asks if it was necessary that he had to kill him. Jack replies that ‘he killed himself’. As she walks away, Jack muses on how authors suffer as much as the characters they create in a story, but they don’t really dictate the outcome of the plot, they only write stories.
As Margaux confronts him again about him killing off Martinelli, he says that he has had months of sleepless nights after that, but a writer in a story can only build the plot and characters to an extent. After a point, ‘their personalities take over.’ He offers to explain more over a cup of coffee, but she declines, going off to New Mexico. He doesn’t see her for the next few months, having learnt that she had suffered a leg injury and was recovering. One morning he spots her in the gym early. As he casually chats with his trainer, Margaux throws a seductive smile at Jack, confusing him about her motives. As he is about to leave, He finds a note from Margaux attached to his car keys, instructing him to meet her at Cynthia’s café at 4 pm on Friday. Not having any way of contacting her, Jack is forced to accept the invitation, and spends the day obsessing over the meaning of her smile and her note.
He arrives slightly early on the decided day, greeted by the café owners as they are friends. As he settles down beside a window with a beer while reading Murakami’s 1Q84, Margaux appears. They start with some small-talk on the restaurant, its owners, and its food, while Jack appraises Margaux, admiring her shapely body even in her fifties, her facial features sculpted and attractive. Talking about the owner, Cynthia’s Peruvian and French heritage, Jack tells her that he has lived briefly in Peru. She asks him if he had travelled a lot as a musician and he replies in the affirmative. He tells her that he was fortunately born in an extremely creative household, and would build or create something new everyday since he was twelve. He tells her that he survives on his creativity and talent, with a creative intensity that would surprise most people.
Upon being asked why he’s not widely-known, Jack tells her that despite having a classical artistic education, he is a part of the avant-garde circle of artists, an ‘outlier’ who was his own man and never completely belonged in straitjacketed categories of art. Margaux says that his experience is completely different from her own, she has had a rich, comfortable life and did not even complete her college degree, getting married instead to a man who was six-years older. Jack tells her that he has also been married a long time, but its his second, the first lasting only a few years. This unexpected piece of information startles Margaux, who had expected him to be a bachelor and is visibly taken aback. Despite Jack trying to comfort her, she is hesitant and ultimately leaves, apologising for leaving abruptly and questioning her own decisions.
Four days later they see each other at the gym again, Margaux telling Jack that she read the first book of the SoHo quartet and thinks it could be made into a great movie. She apologises for her behaviour last week, voicing her insecurity about her physical appearance for the first time. Jack assures her that he finds extremely beautiful women too high-maintenance, caring more about their make up and dress than their partner. He is married to one such. He tells her that he knows that she has a beautiful, loving heart and an upbeat personality, adding that she probably is an ideal wife and mother. Hearing this, Margaux alludes to the reality of her marriage, saying that she’s been ‘under a gavel for twenty years’. Jack tries to lighten the conversation whilst not paying much attention to her words, comparing a gavel with his sculpting hammers. Margaux remarks that ‘There’s nothing creative or exciting about sentencing the under classes to jail.’, implying that legal justice is not a fair, impartial reality as most would like to believe. Jack gives her his card, inviting her to his studio.
Margaux and her husband visits Jack’s studio one afternoon while he is sculpting. As the Judge and he introduce themselves, the Judge tells him that they are here to see his artwork as Margaux is especially eager. Jack admires her gait, comparing her to ‘a fine racehorse’, not feminine but certainly attractive. As the judge commends the sheer volume of art that he has created, Margaux expresses interest in seeing the sculptures. Her husband spots a painting and a statue of a weeping woman, asking if they are of the same figure, to which Jack replies that they are. He finds the Judge’s reticent reactions hard to understand, not sure if he is appreciating his work. Margaux, on the other hand, is enthusiastic and upbeat. She asks about a woman with a large hat in a painting, and is informed that it is Jack’s estranged wife, classic and beautiful. The judge remarks that one expects an artist to have a beautiful wife, looking down on his wife’s physical appearance and objectifying the entire female sex as an aesthetic object. Margaux scowls. As Jack tells them that his wife is a scholar and a writer, at which Margaux recites the opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, surprising Jack who didn’t think of her as capable of knowing Chaucer.
As the Judge and he discuss his wife’s scholarly pursuits, Margaux discovers his cat, Kidd Stretch. She pets the cat, expressing her desire to have a pet now that her children have grown up and left, but her husband does not pay any attention, asking Jack the price of a marble statue instead. Jack says that the statue of the weeping woman is supposed to go to his nephew’s wife, who would need it to pay for her tuition. He adds that he made a nude statue of his first-wife, who sold it for $40000. The judge looks up at Margaux tellingly, implying his interest in getting a nude statue of his wife (and probably the intention of selling it as well), but Margaux glares at him, and he doesn’t press the issue. He asks Jack to make a statue of Margaux in a running pose that shows off her running abilities. Jack offers to borrow his neighbour’s treadmill which Margaux could run on while Jack sketched her. Her husband offers to send him a video of her running instead, but Jack says he needs to observe her body in detail for a sculpture to work. They agree to get back on the project in a month.
The Judge’s Wife | Analysis
The story is an excellent portrayal of the objectification of women in a sexist society, as well as the life of a trophy wife. As the wife of a powerful Judge, Margaux does not feel empowered or secure, rather, she is intimidated by the gavel that has been above her head for twenty years, reflecting the controlling nature of her husband who cares just enough for her to be possessive, but not enough to keep her happy or pay attention to her needs.
Right from the beginning of their marriage, the power dynamic is skewed between them. Not only is she six years younger to her husband, they marry the day after her husband graduates from Yale, but do not wait for Margaux to complete her education as she drops out from college instead. This reflects the lack of importance or respect that he has for his wife’s education or career. Despite being a runner, there are no mentions of any professional achievements of Margaux in running, who probably got too busy with marriage and children to think about her own career. Despite his wife’s loneliness after the departure of their children, the Judge does not pay attention to her desire to adopt a pet, instead focusing of making an artistic replica that objectifies her at what she does best. His complete lack of consideration of her preference or consent in the matter. This is reflected in his desire to create a nude replica of her as well, objectifying her to the fullest extent possible.
Despite being an avant garde artist who would be expected to be liberal and progressive, Jack does not do much better than the Judge in his treatment of Margaux and women in general. From the very beginning, he is attracted to her physicality, paying attention only to her body and face. Towards the end he compares her to a race-horse, bringing her down to the level of an animal with the extent of his objectification of her. His surprise at Margaux’s recital of Chaucer also reflects his dismissal of her as an intelligent and intellectual agent who is more than just the attractiveness of her body. He also shows similar attitudes towards his estranged wife, objectifying her physical beauty in a manner that makes her merely the subject of a picture to be appropriated by the male gaze. The judge’s remark of artist’s having beautiful wives also reduces women to the category of aesthetically-pleasing objects, while degrading his wife’s appearance at the same time.
There are numerous metatextual references to the art of writing, expressed in Jack’s comments on authors and the characters that they create. The idea of artistic creativity is also a major theme in the story, with Jack engaging in a range of creative activities to produce art in an impressive scale. Jack’s creativity also mirrors the author, Daniel Harris’ own, who, like Jack, is also a musician, artist, and an author.
The Judge’s Wife | Characters
Jack – A former musician disabled by an accident, Jack is a writer and an avantgarde painter and sculptor who grew up in an extremely creative household, making him create or build new things every day. Despite his liberal background, he has backward views on women, objectifying them very often.
Margaux– The fifty-something trophy wife of a powerful judge, Margaux is warm, intelligent, and attractive. Naturally hesitant and possibly submissive, she is oppressed by her powerful husband’s influence as well as the controlling and uncaring attitude that he has towards her. Bored and unhappy in 33 years of marriage, she is presumably looking for an extramarital affair that is exciting and adventurous, but backs off when she realises that Jack is married. Despite the men around her constantly objectifying her, she is an intelligent woman with a generous and kind heart, making people warm up to her easily.
The Judge– Referred to in the entire story as “The Judge” and not Margaux’s husband, he embodies his profession, judging, appropriating and controlling the lives of people around him. He is possessive of his wife but does not care or respect her enough to take her wishes or even her consent into consideration before making decisions about her.