When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the confines of her domestic situation.
Aside from its unusually frank treatment of a then-controversial subject, the novel is widely admired today for its literary qualities. Edmund Wilson characterized it as a work “quite uninhibited and beautifully written, which anticipates D. H. Lawrence in its treatment of infidelity.” Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening.
Having Booklr friends means sometimes getting scolded…erm…HEAVILY ENCOURAGED…to read a book that I gotten to yet. Such was the case last week when I finally posted finished shelfies to our chat while unpacking, and Monsieurbookshire saw that The Awakening was still in with my TBRs. “YOU MUST READ THAT IMMEDIATELY!!!!!”
To be honest, it has made it on my reading list multiple times, but kept getting pushed back for one reason or another. It just wasn’t a priority. But, when Liss pointed it out–I moved it up.
This is one of those extremely important works of literature that I feel extremely mediocre about. I understand the importance…I guess I was just expecting it to be a little bit stronger. I did read in the introduction that publishers were always trying to get Chopin to tone down her women before they would accept her works, so maybe that had something to do with it.
My basic takeaway from The Awakening? Frustrated woman eats chocolate bonbons while driving men crazy and discovering her independence. A pretty great life, if you asked me, but one that ultimately destroyed her. I don’t think that had as much to do with her feminism, though, and more to do with her inability to reach that carrot dangling constantly in front of her.
My copy of Kate Chopin includes her short stories, so I will be reading those as well over the coming weeks. I’ve been told that I might like them better than The Awakening. I will let you know!