When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the straitened confines of her domestic situation.
Aside from its unusually frank treatment of a then-controversial subject, the novel is widely admired today for its literary qualities. Edmund Wilson characterized it as a work “quite uninhibited and beautifully written, which anticipates D. H. Lawrence in its treatment of infidelity.”
Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening. Now available in this inexpensive edition, it offers a powerful and provocative reading experience to modern readers.
The Awakening was a controversial book at the time of its release in 1899. While not banned the book was heavily censored due to it being considered an immoral work of literature. The idea that a woman could be sexually frank and pursue her desires was unheard of during this particular time. Finding identity outside of marriage and children was against the status quo, and the male gate keepers of publishing houses found it difficult to read about a woman who described her sensuailty so frankly.
The book begins with Pontellier family consisting of the Creole patriarch Leonce, his wife Edna and their two young sons vacationing in Grand Isle. The prose is almost dreamlike as she develops an attraction to Robert, a younger man that mutually shares her attraction, however Robert leaves for Mexico when he realizes falling in love with her wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do on his end. Heartbroken Edna finds solace in the arms of Alcee but for her their encounters are purely sexual, she does not love Alcee. When Robert returns he realizes that he is in love with Edna and admits this to Edna and mentions that he hopes to marry one day. This is all too much for Edna at this point because she comes to the conclusion that marriage was something that chained her and she wishes for freedom. She has already left her husband and two young children and she cannot imagine starting over again.
Kate Chopin masterfully depicts human nature and the complexities of social expectations and obligations, you almost feel as you are a fly on the wall watching this tragedy unfold. The book while short at just over a 100 pages (depends on the edition) is a heavy reader in terms of the complexities in the feelings and situations. This book is a glimpse back into time, it is a moody timeless passionate tale of love, awakening, desire and unrequited love.
Buy the book here.
If you have already read the book, let us know what you think of it in the comment box below.