The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)

The awakening by kate chopin - cover

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a short novel, published in 1899. Now considered a feminist classic, it was widely criticized, even reviled when first published, and even decades after. It’s the story of Edna Pontellier, who searches for meaning outside the cultural roles of wife and mother, and fulfillment of her sexuality and desire for independence.

The book was banned in many quarters long after its initial publication. Many critics — and the public — actually called the story “poison.” Following is a fairly typical review from the time of the book’s original publication, not slamming the book entirely, but professing confusion over its purpose and propriety. This following review is typical of the those published upon its publication.

 

An 1899 review of The Awakening

From The Morning Times, Washington, DC, June 1899: The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a story of the Creole life of New Orleans, by a writer who has already gained some reputation in picturing Louisiana scenes and characters. Her “Bayou Folks” was one of the most fascinating books lately written about a region full of possibilities to the maker of fiction. Her most recent book is more ambitious, being a novel, and evidently written with some sort of a purpose.

Just what the purpose is, the average reader will be puzzled to know; but it is quite evident that the book was not written for the Philistines. It is the story of a woman’s life, and whether or not it is a common story in any of its essential features, the public must decide.

The heroine, Edna Pontellier, is an impulsive, passionate, and somewhat self-centered Southern girl, born in Kentucky, and married to a Creole whom she does not love.

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The awakening by Kate Chopin cover

You might also like: Willa Cather’s Review of The Awakening
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Experiencing the awakening

Like a great many other women, she has married when a mere girl, more because it seemed to be expected of her than for any other reason.

At the age of twenty-eight, after becoming the mother of two children, she comes to understand herself, and, as is frequently the case, the agency of the “awakening” is a man, Robert Le Brun, whom she suddenly discovers that she loves. He, on his part, recognizing the nature of the situation, abruptly leaves her and goes to Mexico.

And here comes in the part of the story which will seem inexplicable to most people: Edna, once awakened to the fact that she does not care for her husband, enters upon a violent flirtation with one of the roues of New Orleans.

This comes to nothing; Robert returns, but leaves her once more, determined to save her from herself, whereupon she drowns herself. And that is the whole story.

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A shocking conclusion for its time

Whether the book was worth writing or not is a question which the public will settle. That it is well written is beyond doubt. It is the inner history of one of those women who, in modern days, figure in divorce suits; two centuries ago they would have figured in grim and horrible tragedies.

It is a psychological dissection of such a woman’s soul; and most people will not understand it any more than they would understand the woman herself.

There are two other characters in the book who are admirably drawn in every way; the odd, quaint little musician, Mademoiselle Reisz, and the exquisitely feminine Madame Ratignolle.

The portrait of Pontellier is also vivid, while that of Robert is slightly vague an outline. The book is an indication that the author may some day write a novel which will be an important addition to American literature.

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The awakening by Kate Chopin cover

The Awakening on Amazon

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More about The Awakening by Kate Chopin 

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2 Responses to “The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)”

  1. I stumbled across this book a couple years ago and have been in love with it since. It’s so beautifully written that you feel as though you’re there, feeling what Edna feels. I’ve read it dozens of times already and it will continue to be a “go to” book for me.

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