Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"The Awakening" By Kate Chopin

Chopin and her children
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899, 102 pages-read on line at

One of the benefits of my recent venture into the short story genre is it allows me to "try out" a writer prior to attempting a longer work and see if I might enjoy or appreciate  their longer works.   Last month I read and posted on Kate Chopin's (1850  to 1904) short story, "A Respectable Woman".   I was completely taken by her prose style and thought she did a very good job of creating a believable full world in just a few pages.   Her work is mostly set in late 19th century Louisiana in the southern USA where Chopin spent most of her life.    I have gone a bit into her background and literary import in my prior post on Chopin.

The Awakening has attracted a good bit of attention among book bloggers in the last year.    It is a story about a woman married to a decent successful man, with healthy happy children.   There is something missing in her life.    I think I can say this without spoiling the story for potential readers who will already know this as it is on the back cover of some of the editions.    She begins an affair with a man in her circle.    Chopin does a good job expressing the frustration of the woman.   We can feel the sensual void in her life.   To me the lead female character, Edna, seemed selfish and wallowing  in surface sensuality.   I know not everyone will agree with me.  My reaction to her (and there is not a suggestion  at all in the book that Chopin endorses the actions of Edna  for which a terrible price will be paid) attitude toward her children turned me against her. I did not find the character of the man she loved, Robert, especially well done and we have no sense of his feelings.   The consensus seems to be that her short stories are the best of her work.    This is not to say that this book cannot be completely enjoyed for its wonderful prose.   Here is a sample of some sections I especially liked:

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The motherwomen seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.
Mrs. Pontellier was not a woman given to confidences, a characteristic hitherto contrary to her nature. Even as a child she had lived her own small life all within herself. At a very early period she had apprehended instinctively the dual life--that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.
The sentiment which she entertained for Robert in no way resembled that which she felt for her husband, or had ever felt, or ever expected to feel. She had all her life long been accustomed to harbor thoughts and emotions which never voiced themselves. They had never taken the form of struggles. They belonged to her and were her own, and she entertained the conviction that she had a right to them and that they concerned no one but herself.
On Chopin, I would say start with her short stories and if you love the prose style go on to The Awakening. has several of her short stories on line as well as The Awakening.    For those of us who live where there are basically no public libraries web pages like are super valuable.

Things Mean a Lot has an very perceptive post on The Awakening and links to a number of other blog posts on it.   Other readers of the work have been more in sympathy with the central character Edna than I am.  I will read more of her stories.   


Rebecca Chapman said...

Sounds really lovely. I will keep my eye out for it.

Unknown said...

I read this one in graduate school and found myself outnumbered by people who loved it. I'm with you. Edna struck me as spoiled and very middle class. So, I basically kept my opinion to myself.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I had my own little awakening when I read this book. I had never read Chopin before and had been told to read this many times. If I had known how much I was going to love it, I probably would have read it much sooner.

Rebecca Reid said...

oh I'm sorry to hear that you weren't crazy about THE AWAKENING. I recently read a short story by Chopin and thought I'd try the AWAKENING later this month :(