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.