Have you gotten a chance to glance at yesterday’s post about Kate Chopin and all of the history (and controversy!) regarding today’s book club read? If not, I would seriously suggest it because there is just so much going on with this novella. Oh, and if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about with this whole Book Club Classics thing, you can read all about it, and our books for the year are listed below!
2015 Book Club Classics List
January – Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (January 28) My review here
February – A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (February 25) My review here
March – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (March 25) My review here
April – Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (April 29) My review here
May – The Awakening by Kate Chopin (May 20)
June – The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (June 24)
July – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (July 29)
August – Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (August 26)
September – Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (September 30)
October – Dracula by Bram Stoker (October 28)
November – Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney (November 18)
December – The Chimes by Charles Dickens (December 16)
So let’s dive into The Awakening, and as always, there are spoilers past this point. Don’t let me ruin this great novella for you!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’ve come to realize that I’m a big fan of works from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It’s my favorite period of American literature, and I love the narrative style that so many novelists employed; it’s like a sweet spot between the earlier stuff that was more straightforward and obvious and the wholly stream-of-consciousness writing that I have a hard time getting through.
First of all, I loved the setting; turn-of-the-century New Orleans seems like a crazy, beautiful mix of culture that I would’ve loved to witness. I honestly know less than I would like to admit about Creole culture, so that just gave the story an even bigger intrigue factor for me. When you mix in a society full of people who can afford to vacation for an entire summer, it only gets more interesting. I felt like Edna’s character was so interesting, and I loved experiencing her develop chapter by chapter as she peeled back layers of herself and broke free from what she had grown into. In the same respect, I didn’t think that Chopin manhandled the other characters or treated them unfairly to get her point across. The men and other women just seemed less enlightened the more Edna grew and awakened to who she really was.
First of all, I just want to say how tame this story was compared to how I thought it would be. Particularly when I saw the Penguin Classics cover that I included above, I considered sending a disclaimer to some of the people who follow along with this book club, especially my grandfather! Now I know that there were some implied sexual encounters between Edna and Alcée, but reading between the lines is not as bad as the Fifty Shades action I was expecting.
After reading up a bit on the novel and its censorship, I found that the real problem that society seemed to have with The Awakening was its feminist outlook on women’s lives, motherhood, and social norms. Instead of being bothered with the scandalous hand kisses and hair caresses, reviewers were bothered by Edna’s lack of adherence to society’s rules and her disinterest and seeming neglect of her children. What I thought was going to be a book banned for its explicit sex became a book that made late nineteenth century men (and women) uncomfortable, so they chose to write it off as trash and not worth their time. What a wake up call for me!
Is Edna a bad mother?
Based on society’s definition of a good mother? Probably. I was incredibly intrigued by the different elements of motherhood that Chopin presented for her readers. In Madame Ratignolle, we see the ideal: a woman who lives for her children and seems happy to set her life aside for theirs. Then there’s Edna, who never shows much concern for Etienne and Raoul unless they have been absent from her for a period of time. I find the opinions of society toward mothers very interesting, especially considering it’s the “quadroon” or other servant who essentially raises the children in both families.
For me, the motherhood question in this novella came down to agency. We see it best when Edna cares for Adèle during her childbirth and recalls how she gave birth to her own children while in an unconscious stupor of chloroform. Just as she has no control over how she gives birth, Edna never had any choice in having children at all. In today’s society, a woman like Edna who never felt the desire to have a family wouldn’t have one. For Edna, there was no choice. Just as she was expected to become a wife, she was expected to enter into motherhood and embrace it fully, with all of her being. As she says many times in the story, Edna cannot give up herself for her children, which is most obvious when she drowns herself at the end.
The love story
In yesterday’s intro post, I asked about the main love story in the novella. While reading The Awakening, I was pleased to find that the real love affair throughout this scandalous romp was that between Edna and the version of herself that she realized she could be. I mean, seriously, aside from her girlhood infatuation with the engaged military man does Edna think all that passionately toward any of the men in the novel? We never see her feel any inkling of longing for her husband, she seems to keep Alcée around because he refuses to allow anything else, and even with Robert she doesn’t realize her regard for him until he is no longer around; it seems more habit than love.
But Edna really becomes infatuated with the newer version of herself. She loves the independence, the strength, and she just fully embraces what she can be despite what friends, family, and society has to say about it. I can’t say that I was expecting it to end like it did, but it also didn’t take away from the journey that Edna took from the beginning of the novel. I appreciated her struggle throughout, and I also understood the ending as what she considered to be her only option.
If you’ve popped over to my Goodreads page lately, you’ll see that I gave The Awakening five stars because it gave me all sorts of feminist feels and Kate Chopin’s narrative voice and overall style is gorgeous!
As always, if you’re a blogger who wants to link up with your own blog post on this book (or any other classics that you’re reading), use the InLinkz button below to join the party! I would also love for you to slap this button onto your page, and spread the word about the group.
Next month’s classic is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and you guys, I am so excited about it. It’s one of Spencer’s favorite books, and I have a close friend who swears by it, so we’re in for a treat! Meet me back here on June 24th, and we’ll parse through it together. All 1,276 pages of it!