maricar's Reviews > The Awakening and Selected Stories

The Awakening and Selected Stories by Kate Chopin
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Feb 17, 11

bookshelves: classics, fiction-for-women

I admit it’s difficult to try to put up what I think would be my own review of The Awakening without it being influenced by Sandra Gilbert’s introduction (uhmm, so maybe I shouldn’t bother, eh). And yes, this reading was done haltingly, in between long stretches of intervals… *shakes fist* damn you, attention span shot to hell!

To posit Edna Pontellier as a ‘mother-woman’ on the verge of going through minute yet slyly rapturous, if harrowing, changes from within which would ultimately coalesce into a sort of ‘second coming of Aphrodite’ is an interesting take.

I’m not well-versed in feminist schools of thought, and, indeed, Edna’s (rather inexplicable) journey towards emancipation from the shackles of family and societal expectations to approach an existence much like that of the deity, is something I would not have been able to connect. But, as Gilbert has listed the nuances with which Chopin laid the setting and events wherein Edna would find brimming dissatisfaction, disquiet, and then silent resistance (for example, recurring themes of gendered objects), I do find myself having to applaud this author’s writing style.

What is also striking for me is the resilience with which Chopin refused to stick to conventional norms as to how an event should play out, and even how seemingly innocuous statements or behaviors from decidedly normal characters inadvertently give a faintly surrealistic dimension to a scene.

Edna’s persona in turmoil, for instance, sums up the ways in which a reader can never truly anticipate anything from this story. The heroine shifts from extremes of happiness and complacency with her lot in life, and in the next, she wants – no, craves – to be disconnected and swept away from her husband, her friends, her suitors, and even her children. She could be mellow in a nondescript domestic tableau and then later on become slightly irritable and choose to walk away from it all. She could be unwittingly seductive to the two men who pursue her attention and in the next breath wish to be rid of their company (the fact the she is entertaining such attentions is, of course, food for thought already).

Perhaps it is because of how Chopin almost always abruptly turned the nature of Edna and of the events unfolding around her in ways unexpected or unconventional that makes this novel worth waiting out ‘til the end. True, the ending was too ambiguous to provide any concrete sort of closure, but that perhaps was the intent…

And as I do try to find words to describe how I more or less feel about this work, the image that persistently (and strangely) crops up is that of a scene from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film, in which Elizabeth Bennet’s aunt remarks to Lizzy, after meeting Mr Darcy, “There’s something…pleasant about his mouth when he speaks.”

For me, Chopin’s style is not so much grandiose or flowery (as I have originally feared from some authors during this period) as it is sedately elegant. She has honed a fine balance between injecting a sense of judicious economy and allowing freedom for fanciful and emotive ruminations in her narration. (Perhaps that’s where the Mr Darcy spectre comes forth – a man outwardly staid but surprisingly capable of impassioned expression… I don’t know…)

Such juxtaposition can, for instance, be witnessed in the following passage:

Mademoiselle opened the drawer and drew forth the letter, the topmost one. She placed it in Edna’s hands, and without further comment arose and went to the piano.
Mademoiselle played a soft interlude. It was an improvisation. She sat low at the instrument, and the lines of her body settled into ungraceful curves and angles that gave it an appearance of deformity...
Edna did not know when the Impromptu began or ended. She sat in the sofa corner reading Robert’s letter by the fading light...
The shadows deepened in the little room. The music grew strange and fantastic – turbulent, insistent, plaintive and soft with entreaty. The shadows grew deeper. The music filled the room. It floated out upon the night, over the housetops, the crescent of the river, losing itself in the silence of the upper air...
Edna was sobbing, just as she had wept one midnight at Grand Isle when strange, new voices awoke her…,” (116).

As it is, The Awakening is an easy read. More often than not, even enjoyable.

However, I have to say – much to my surprise – that is it not as enjoyable as the short stories following it.

These short stories, showing snapshots of the complexities of relationships between men and women, women and women, and almost everything else in between, were superbly written. Chopin illustrates, among other things, how the much-vaunted romantic love can be skewed, misunderstood, highly-politicized, or later be revealed as really nothing more than an ideal – which in itself can either be cathartic or disastrous.

Marriages are never completely stable, and, indeed, are more likely to be a prison that can literally bring a woman to her knees in despair. Husbands and wives can be shown as people possessing unknown depths of blissful ignorance at the rot that has taken hold of their relationship.

And then there are stories that dwell largely on the role of women – mothers who, for once, allow themselves to be selfish and indulge (be it for just one day), wives who have reached the end of their tether and stand up their husbands, and in turn, discover something about themselves, or single women who daily have had to confront the world at large and often come out as the victims.

Overarching these vignettes is a reflection of women in society (and indeed, society reflecting on women), as problematized and succinctly highlighted by the author.

And, yes, the endings in these short stories can leave one surprised, disoriented, or rueful.

Well, that certainly was the case for me. And the sensation was so refreshing I never wanted my edition to run out of these novellas.
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Quotes maricar Liked

Kate Chopin
“Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one's life.”
Kate Chopin, The Awakening, and Selected Stories

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