Madeleine, Moses' ex-wife, is the archetypal antagonistic ex. Moses describes her as exceptionally beautiful, occasionally neurotic, and role-playing. Madeleine's father was an actor, and Madeleine inherited his theatrical tendencies. Over the course of the novel, she first embraces the role of fervent convert to Catholicism, later trading in her newfound religion for a role as a scholar and academic.

Our view as Madeleine as a terrible person is not an entirely objective one. We see her mostly through Herzog's biased eyes. Reading between the lines, we can see that Madeleine may have genuine grievances of her own. Moses mentions that Madeleine had difficulty getting used to the housework—an understandable grievance, since Madeleine had to cook and clean a huge house in the solitary Berkshires, with no company besides Valentine and Phoebe Gersbach. Madeleine's resistance to housewifery is even more understandable considering her background. She hated her mother for giving up her life in order to serve her famous actor father. She objects to female servitude, and cannot bring herself to serve Moses. Madeleine's sister also says that Madeleine complained of Herzog's tyrannical and dictatorial tendencies. Bellow depicts Madeleine as a "modern woman," unsuited for the life Moses has to offer..

Madeleine has an affair with Gersbach, Moses' best friend. Although the affair wounds Herzog, Madeleine seems to truly love Gersbach, something that even Moses admits. In contrast to Moses, Gersbach helps Madeleine with the housework and with June.