With Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, my tenth book read as part of the Art of the Novella Reading Challenge, I pass Passionate level. Thus far, this tenth novella is my favourite.
Both author and book are new to me. Published in 1899, I am dazzled that Chopin wrote so courageously, prefiguring Virginia Woolf and second-wave feminists like Doris Lessing. (Perhaps Emily or someone who knows more of Chopin can tell me whether Woolf read and found inspiration in The Awakening, which shares some of Woolf’s lyricism and heavy use of symbolism.)
The story is of the growing self-awareness, and need for independence, of a New Orleans housewife, no longer able to suffer the confines of her conventional marriage or societal etiquette.
It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier’s mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could plainly see that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.
Edna, the story’s protagonist, casts aside her fictitious self, rejecting the proscribed model of wife and mother. In the end, this proves too challenging even for the man she loves. His departure catalyzes Edna’s inability to live independently in the society of her day.
Emily wrote essays on The Awakening at school; Frances wrote: “You either already know or can imagine where Edna is headed, but if you have not already, you should read this.” I could not agree more.
Yes. But. It’s so very like Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. I liked it, but I thought, “Haven’t we heard this story before?”
It is the execution of the story, Bellezza, that appealed to me. Though told through third-person narration, one is never in doubt of where the narrator’s sympathy lies, unlike Madame Bovary which, though wonderful, is such a bitter, vindictive story. I am sure the story is still being told; in many cultures, after all, the traditions have not changed so very much. I find Edna such an appealing character that I am silently cheering her growing self-awareness and independence; I could not say the same for Emma Bovary.
You’re absolutely right in saying that Edna is a much more appealing character than Emma. And, it is an age-old story, I don’t know why I got frustrated with this. I appreciate your perspective which helps me respect this novella more.
This is one of my favorites too. Re-reading this time, I was blown away by how the work seems to gain depth every time I pick it up. So far ahead of her time, so brave to publish this. And would agree completely with your comparison between Emma Bovary and Edna.
I’ve ordered the LOA collection of Kate Chopin’s work; I am keen to see what else she wrote.
Oh, so glad you enjoyed this, Anthony. I found it really deepened with my recent, more adult reading of it. I’ve never thought to explore Chopin’s other writing, so will be curious when you get around to that LOA collection.
It’s a good question about Woolf. I don’t remember her referring to Chopin in any of the letters or diaries, and a quick perusal of their indexes confirms that Chopin’s name doesn’t appear, so if Woolf read her, she didn’t mention it. Still, I can certainly see a possible link between them!
Thanks for checking the Woolf connection, Emily. I am sure to get more context from that LOA edition.
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