My postgraduate course is taking over pretty much my whole life at the moment. I am still finding the time to read non-academic books when I commute but I am getting very behind with writing up my reviews (also in the wrong order as I read this before ‘The Unconsoled’). I actually read ‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin during Banned Books Week at the beginning of October but have only just got round to writing this blog post. Hopefully, I will catch up by Christmas…!
‘The Awakening’ tells the story of Edna Pontellier, a young Creole woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who is capable of (shock horror) independent thought and marital infidelity. Her modern views on motherhood and femininity even cause her husband, Leonce, to seek medical advice. During a holiday, she meets Robert and falls for him. Inevitably, there are tragic consequences.
I read ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte a while ago which deals with similar themes and was published some fifty years earlier (admittedly under a pseudonym), so I was a little surprised that ‘The Awakening’ was censored given that it was published as late as 1899 and the subject-matter seemed to be treated very delicately (from my 21st century perspective at least). I guess it’s easy to forget how shocking that sort of thing was even at the turn of the twentieth century. The ‘awakening’ itself though is not just about sex as it is also a personal journey about Edna discovering who she is as a person too. I can’t say I felt a lot of emotional attachment to her as a character though in spite of her situation which obviously provokes a lot of sympathy in the reader. Edna does come across as being quite selfish at times but then her flaws also make her more interesting.
The whole book and especially the ending is very powerful and yet at the same time, it is also remarkably restrained in the way it is written. The writing is simple and unfussy but the message within it is infinitely more complex. I think ‘The Awakening’ would be worth re-reading at some point in the future.