Book Review: The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction by Kate Chopin

Title: The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction
Author: Kate Chopin
Genre: Classic fiction
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That’s all right!”

This review was originally posted on my personal blog on February 16, 2007.

This was one of the books I treated myself to when we were away for the weekend and spent our evening out at Barnes & Noble. I had listened to a few of Kate Chopin’s short stories on the audiobook Great American Women’s Fiction and was intrigued by them. She writes very well, and her low opinion of marriage comes through in many of her stories. And yet, when she writes about what marriage was like during the late 1800s, you can hardly blame her.

Chopin was mostly forgotten about until the 1970s revived her work under the heading “feminist fiction.” This isn’t a categorization I’m quite sure she deserves. Feminist is a relative term, isn’t it? I agree with her that the marriages she writes about are completely disfunctional – and I have to imagine that her fictional marriages are based on true-life ones that she observed. The husbands are obsessed with work and earning money and going to the “club” and treat their wives as children to be patronized, at best, or property to be used, at worst.

The heroin in the novel The Awakening is a married woman with children who becomes awakened to her own intellectual and sexual needs, and because these needs aren’t being fulfilled by her husband, she seeks fulfillment elsewhere. Ms. Chopin’s writing is not explicit, so the adultery happens “off-stage,” so to speak.

I don’t want to give away the ending for those of you planning to read this, but I don’t see it as a great feminist manifesto. I saw it as a good example of what happens when we follow our selfish impulses, rather than make sacrifices for the people who love us.

The end-notes of the book include a review by Willa Cather, in which she compares The Awakening‘s main character Edna Pontellier with Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. I believe she gets exactly what this book made me feel:

“Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary are studies in the same feminine type; one a finished and complete portrayal, the other a hasty sketch, but the theme is essentially the same. Both women belong to a class, not large, but forever clamoring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God put into it. Mr. G. Bernard Shaw would say that they are the victims of the over-idealization of love….These people really expect the passion of love to fill and gratify every need of life, whereas nature only intended that it should meet one of many demands.”

This volume also included many of Chopin’s short stories, Desiree’s Baby, A Pair of Silk Stockings, and The Story of an Hour being my favorites.

Aside from the fact that her topic choices make me think, I love the way her writing creates the mood of the Bayou. She was raised in Louisiana, and whether her characters are intellectuals from the French Quarter or plantation servants, you can see them and their surroundings.

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13 Responses to Book Review: The Awakening and Selected Short Fiction by Kate Chopin

  1. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads
    says:

    I haven’t read this one in years! Glad you decided to repost your review on this blog.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Thanks, Candace. One of these days I’ll have them all migrated over here….

  2. JoAnn
    Twitter: lakesidemusing
    says:

    The Story of An Hour was the very first story I wrote about on my blog, and I usually credit it for my interest in short stories. I loved The Awakening, too.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      JoAnn -I need to read Story of an Hour again – it really is such an excellent story.

  3. Beth Hoffman says:

    I don’t recall ever hearing of this book, but it certainly has me interested! I’ll add it to my list. Thanks, Carrie!

  4. Kim
    Twitter: BookstoreK
    says:

    I love this book, but don’t see it as feminist in the sense that it shows a path forward, I mean if that is her answer, no thanks. It is feminist is giving an alternative view to marriage, it’s not always ‘happily ever after’ and doesn’t fulfill women in and of itself. I’ve read it twice in the last few years, once when my kids were toddlers and I was physically exhausted and once when they were teenagers and I was mentally exhausted, while my take on the book didn’t change all that much, the emotional impact was different. I guess that’s what a classic is, a book that you can read at different stages in your life and get something different from it.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kim – good point about there being different ideas of what a feminist work is. And I may need to reread this one – it would be interesting to see if I have the same reaction a few years down the mothering path. :)

  5. AIDY
    Twitter: aidyspoetry
    says:

    Sounds beautiful! I am from Louisiana and I love to read books inspired by my native homeland. Intriguing subject matter–I really enjoy reading books that detail a woman’s inner desires and demons, especially when there are unresolved “needs” to be met. I may need to check this one out.

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    I love The Awakening and I totally agree with Cather, “women belong to a class, not large, but forever clamoring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God put into it.” I never really thought of it exactly that way, but it’s true!
    I also loved the Story of an Hour.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Stacy – she definitely knew what she was talking about!

  7. jam6346 says:

    Nice review. Ultimately, I agree that Chopin provides an example of what happens when, like you said, we follow our selfish impulses at the expense of those we love. However, rather than asking for a judgment calls, I think Edna’s story asks the reader to consider why giving in to one’s selfish impulses warrants the consequences that it does. A woman in Edna’s time typically would have sacrificed these impulses for those she loves–mainly, her children and her husband. What she would not have typically done, is question the terms of this sacrifice–and ask at what cost to herself.