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GERBAM

Kate Chopin The Awakening

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HI ALL

 

I tried to find a Kate Chopin thread and was disappointed not to find one since she is such an important American female writer. She wrote THE AWAKENING, novel about Edna Pontellier a widow who lives in New Orleans and is heartbreakingly miserable. She takes the chance of breaking with the conventional mores of Victorian life and when she gets into trouble she does not take the sage advice of two of her sage supporters.

 

Not like other Victorian novels, some discussed here, we have a very brave woman, but not a very smart one. But her creater is a genius. The building of Edna's character and the definition of her pain is stunning. Chopin manages to weave so much into this very short novel: imagery, allusion, symbols, sex, money, love, morality, personal values and friendship. Not unlike Virginia Woolf Kate Chopin captures the life of a woman on the edge who refuses to be helped back into the world.

 

Has anyone read this masterpiece of 19C American Belle Lettres?

Lets talk!

 

GERBAM

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I've read it a couple of times this year as part of my uni course.

 

I don't think Edna sets out to break conventional Victorian codes, after all she marries for money into a wealthy family, quite going along with Victorian morality. She just doesn't find in it what she is seeking. Her journey then leads her into challenging Victorian morality quite by the way. I didn't actually like her very much, as the inherent racism in the novel makes it quite hard for us contemporary readers to empathise with her. Comparisons are inevitably drawn with Madame Bovary, and for my money, I liked her better. I like my heroines a little more pathetic and Emma Bovary is easily that.

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I think we once had a thread on little known writers, where this was mentioned, but I forget the actual title of the thread. It was probably lost during the crash earlier this year.

 

I read this book a few years back, again like Hazel, for a Uni course. I loved the book and for me it was an awakening into the writing of that period, in that place and for those people.

 

I thought Edna was a woman out of her time. She craved independence and wanted so much to express her talent and yet every way she looked she felt trapped by conventions. I warned to her character myself and felt so sad at the end.

 

I have always rated Chopin's writing, who was perhaps a writer out of her time. The Awakening did, after all, virtually end her career as a writer because of the subject matter. Yes, it is a small volume, almost a novella I suppose, but in a way I think that's its strength. Another writer might have made it overblown and diluted the essence of the characters and the sense of despair that permeates the narrative.

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I have always rated Chopin's writing, who was perhaps a writer out of her time.

 

 

I also read this book in Uni a few years ago and agree with this statement. I Think this is especialy true if we looka t the Charater of Edna she created in The Awakening Who indeed is a charater out of her time looking for a lifestyle which she could only live in our modern world. I rember stateing in my essay in Uni that Edna's suicide at the end of the novel was not her giving up but her liberation as she removes herself from a world that cannot accept her.

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I agree with the comments about the woman/writer out of her time. I think The Awakening portrayed this woman's desire very well and I thought the fact that she was brave enough to try to have what she really wanted was also brave on Chopin's part. I know the book wasn't very well received, but Chopin was a pioneer.

 

I think I was most touched by the different actions and meanings behind that 'because I love you' line at the end. It just summed it all up for me.

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I rember stateing in my essay in Uni that

Edna's suicide at the end of the novel was not her giving up but her liberation as she removes herself from a world that cannot accept her.

 

Absolutely, especially as the reader never actually

'sees' her die - as the novella ends she is still smiling as she swims out to sea. If we compare that to Madame Bovary's supposed ambiguous suicide/escape - the graphic reality of her horrible and ugly death makes it less of an escape from a life that couldn't quite contain her or fufil her.

 

 

ETA - maybe we should consider spoilering some of our discussion?

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Because I love this book so much I was delighted to see it championed in The Sunday Telegraph today. (Main section - page 35 - And For Later... piece) Ruth Caven does not say much more than we have said here, but I think it's fabulous that this book gets highlighted.

 

My copy of this book has been read so many times - by me and my relations and friends - that it's falling apart.

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I read this as a returning, "nontraditional" student and really liked it, despite the inherent racism which Hazel mentioned - it's difficult to separate 19th c. southern US writers from their environment. (Fluent structuralism spoken here!) Interesting how so many women writers were marginalized as "regionals" back in the bad ol' days of the white male literary canon. Not to mention that it was positively scandalous for the time in which it was published.

 

Our department chairman in grad school has adapted it for the stage - unfortunately, I was gone by then and didn't get to see it performed.

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............. Comparisons are inevitably drawn with Madame Bovary, and for my money, I liked her better. I like my heroines a little more pathetic and Emma Bovary is easily that.

 

 

 

I, too, having just finished the novel, liked Emma Bovary better.

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I hated the book first time round!

But second time around it really grabbed me. There is something in the writing. Very musical and pretty.

 

Sometimes you have to read something twice to really get it, this is one of those for me.

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Well, I have to agree with everyone about the quality of the writing, at least after I allow for that 19th century tendency to histrionics, and recognize that what seems stilted to me was common language of the day. I found the casual racism to be much less offensive than usual for those times, mostly because the language didn't reflect it, which allowed me to believe it was character contained, and not authorially generated.

There are books where the ending makes an average book great, and times where a poor ending is only a minor flaw in a great book. But the ending of this novel pretty much ruined the book for me, which, up till then, I thought was really great. Not because it was depressing, but because it really torqued me off!

This is a seminal feminist work and the protagonist offs herself because of a man?!?! A woman who could be viewed as heroic for her previous decisions sends the message to all and sundry, and especially to her two kids, that if you don't get your way you kill yourself! That the only solution to unhappiness is suicide! And don't tell me society drove her to it. She had options, a surprisingly large number of them considering the society she did live in. It was her liberation? No way. This is a failure of imagination on a particularly egregious and colossal level of self-centeredness. Suicide may be liberation from chronic pain, terminal illness, or chronic and debilitating mental illness. But when you kill yourself because society doesn't accept you and your boyfriend left you, then that's just cowardice. And what took this from the usual crumbling of respect I feel for suicides to actual anger is that it felt out of character for Edna to kill herself and more like Chopin chose this direction for her character and therefore that the ultimate philosophical statement made by Chopin herself in this philosophically oriented book was that suicide is a valid response to the vagaries of life! And the reason she didn't show the actual death of Edna was because the inevitable gasping panic and feelings of 'oh this was a reaaaalllly bad idea' would have detracted from her ridiculous and dangerous romanticism of suicide!!!And it really says a lot about the messed up values of that age that it was her depiction of adultery, and not her endorsement of suicide, that prompted an outcry

 

So for all my appreciation for chopin's style, and the great message inculcated in the first 95% of the book, the horrible overall message left by that ridiculous denouement leads me to only give this two stars.

Edited by Dan

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