Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is a refreshing and daring taste of 19th century literature. Particularly since it was written by a woman, exploring ideas and feelings that of the time, that were not permissible behavior. In a lot of ways, it’s a classic How Stella Got Her Groove Back, only with a less than happy ending.
Edna Ponteillier stars as the wife of a successful and wealthy New Orleans business man. Upon a family vacation, she feels she’s missed out on a lot of life by marrying and having two children before the age of 28. She meets a young single man who she finds herself falling in love with. But, upon returning to New Orleans, (unlike her best friend who adores and breathes by her husband and childrens’ wishes), Edna begins to slide into a lifestyle all her own. She has an affair, moves out into her own cottage and goes so far as to (gasp) refuse visitors on visiting day!
The society of old New Orleans held to much stiffer, inflexible ideals than it does today. (Let’s put it this way, no one was earning beads.) French Creole and her newfound freedom unfortunately did not mix with her vacation lover, as he is unable to cope with her new attitude.
It is from there that story takes the saddest, yet liberating, turn and without spoiling it, we’ll let it be.
In a sea of Jane Austen, Susan Warner and Louisa May Alcotts, it’s nice to see a much more openly feminist novel. While feminism in literature of that time was a little more subtle, Chopin’s The Awakening was eeriely modern for it’s day and could even be published tomorrow as a new story and gather a loyal readership.