Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 1899

It's about: Edna Pontellier is a young wife and mother living in New Orleans with her family in the late 19th century. While on vacation, she meets a younger man and falls in love. This book is about her emotional, intellectual, and sexual awakening.

The plot of The Awakening is very similiar to the plot of Madame Bovary, but there are some important differences. Madame Bovary is about a woman who has unrealistic expectations of life and love because she reads so many romance novels. Her character is quite unlikable, and it is inferred that she is wrong/bad. She romanticizes everything, it's annoying and it's supposed to be. Edna Pontellier in The Awakening, however, does not have unrealistic expectations from life. Kate Chopin doesn't include anything in this story to make is seem that she is making the wrong choice. In fact, I read in the introduction to my edition that she was criticized for this. However, I think Chopin was taking a strong stance for women in an era where they are too often sexually repressed. Wikipedia claims that Chopin is often considered a forerunner for 20th century feminist writers.

I wonder if Kate Chopin read Madame Bovary and wanted to use the same plot structure to put forward this message. Madame Bovary was written by a man, after all. Perhaps Chopin thought she could better represent how a woman in Madame Bovary's position would truly feel and act.
Kate Chopin (via)

I thought: I had a great time reading this book on Saturday for the readathon! And I have to say, I really enjoy Kate Chopin's writing. She has a snarky tone that is absolutely delicious. (See the part I chose to put under "Favorite Excerpts.")

While I was reading, I starting thinking that, though it was written some decades later, I think that Chopin's work could act as an interesting alternative to Jane Austen. I absolutely believe everyone should read Jane Austen and give her a chance - I've read three of her books now, and even though some were rather enjoyable I'm still not her hugest fan. I like Kate Chopin's work so much more. There a quite enough books out there about upper class English society in the 1800s - you don't get to read about upper class society in 19th century New Orleans that often, do you?? Kate Chopin also writes stories that are typically more tragic than Jane Austen's, and they certainly don't always end with a marriage.  Both authors write social commentaries about upper class women, but Kate Chopin's work is lesser known and lesser read.
Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: If you like Madame Bovary or Jane Austen's work, give this little gem a chance. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Warnings: There's an implied sex scene, but it's pretty subtle.
Favorite excerpts: "You are lenient, too lenient by far, Leonce," asserted the Colonel. "Authority, coercion are what is needed. Put your foot down good and hard; the only way to manage a wife. Take my word for it."
     The Colonel was perhaps unaware that he had coerced his own wife into her grave. Mr. Pontellier had a vague suspicion of it which he thought it needless to mention at that late day.

What I'm reading next: Almost done with Confessions of a Prairie Bitch