NOTE: This is NOT a review. I’m going to imagine this post as a book club meeting where everyone who shows up has actually read the book. Thus, I’m going to ask questions and state opinions based on the idea that you know at least some of what I’m talking about. What is most fun about a book club – is that everyone should feel free to discuss EVERYTHING! I really battle with the whole idea of reading-before-meeting; people coming to book club not reading the book – I do understand that we can’t always have time to finish the selection. and I do want everyone to feel welcome whether or not they’ve read it. Purely selfish, of course – I want to be able to feel welcome if I show up but didn’t read the book! ha. HOWEVER… I want to talk about all of this, damn it! Unexplained spoilers will be shared here in multitude; fair enough?
by Kate Chopin
First published in 1899; I read the Bantam reissue 1992, 153 pages.
I am a bit embarrassed. I have been seeing this on more than a few bloggers’ lists of must reads and had assumed I hadn’t read it. In fact, I lay claim to my not knowing who Edna Pontellier is in my review of Still Alice.
Uh oh. Guess it didn’t make that much of an impression on me the first time. And I don’t think it was decades ago – it must have been during the foggy nineties when I don’t remember seeing movies, reading books, watching TV. I am not sure WHAT exactly I was doing then…
So. I pick this book up (unaware: again); I bookmooched it. And from the very first word, I was transported back to Edna’s beachside vacation cottage wondering about how this Robert guy was getting away with showering his attention onto married women…
I’ve already READ this! (hangs head in shame) I do not remember my reactions to it. I don’t remember any consideration of the theme, the scandal that erupted when this was published, and what this book means to feminists now.
Personally, I am not sure WHAT I think of Edna and her choices. The book I have also includes seven of Chopin’s short stories* and I liked a few of these much better than The Awakening. Not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t love it.
I do feel bad for Ms. Chopin that the outcry against her last novel caused her so much pain. I bet she was a fascinating woman. And I’m glad that she isn’t searching her book as an author trying to cultivate a book blogger following and finding out that I didn’t even remember it.
*** Spoilers in Question Form ***
Did Edna really love Robert or did she love the idea of him? Was she really that out of touch with analyzing her feelings and just able to roll with what she wanted to do? or did she purposefully NOT analyze her ideas and dreams and desires against any society mandated role she was supposed to fit into? Could she really not consider the gossip by hanging out with ol’ what’s his name – the playboy? (I loved that he was an attorney in name only just so he could say he ‘did something’ when asked at parties! too funny. Reminds me of me and my being a substitute teacher.) Was she a victim of mental illness as her husband suspected? Wouldn’t we assume such even now knowing the ending? Wouldn’t we, if we were hearing a brief sketch of what she was like and what happened wonder if she was not depressed or… something? Was the doctor wise in advising Pontellier to indulge her? Having read any Sacks books about brain disorders, could we hypothesize a neurological issue? She didn’t really have any friends pre-awakening, did she? Hmmmm.
I do think she loved her children. I do think she had it easy as a mother since she had so much help; motherhood for her place in high society barely took much time – no feeding, changing, scolding. Let the nannies do that. OR…. perhaps, in not being a hands on mother (comparing to mothers I see in my neighborhood today), she was not ALLOWED to find her motherly ways** and thus when confronted with the comparison of her friend who was all about being the ideal feminine doting mother of all mothers, she decided she just wasn’t cut from that cloth and gave herself permission to dream a different dream?
I do think the title*** was perfect. She really was like a person who awoke from a life she didn’t plan nor even think about and once awake, how could she not consider what exactly was perfect for her? But still. She seemed to descend into a different fog altogether.
It was fascinating for me to read this right after Thunderstruck which was set in close to the same time period (late Victorian Era) but in a very different cultural setting. FYI – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson is a nonfiction tale weaving together Marconi’s invention of wireless telegraphy and a murder in London culminating in 1910; how technology changes the world. A very microscopic look at a collision of one technology on one amazing event.
The women in Thunderstruck were much more ambitious. and brave? and unconventional. sort of. No, I really can’t say that, too absolute. But many of the women were portrayed strong despite the times and I liked this very much.
Ok, the point is maybe that all women are different. We have different dreams, desires, talent and ambitions and the crime is that sometimes, we tend to allow ourselves to get pigeon-holed into roles and many don’t dare to confront nor challenge these roles. Is that the point? or is it to not judge? or is it to seek help for better mental health?
Edna challenged herself to be all she could be. She wasn’t trying to make a statement or challenge society. She just wanted to BE on her own terms. She was ‘living in the now’ with not much thought of any consequences. And it ended tragically.
* I liked the subtleties of Ma’ame Pélage, the story of the older sister who finally spent her money to restore the old family mansion. And the shock of Desiree’s Baby. And the humor of A Respectable Woman – the story of the lady who didn’t want to like her husband’s friend and then liked him a bit more than was comfortable.
** right. I know, I know. WTH are ‘motherly ways’?!
*** Originally entitled “A Solitary Soul”.