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.