Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

There were strange, rare odors abroad -- a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon the sea and the land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and the softness of sleep. 

~p. 35 of The Awakening

Edna Pontellier is spending a lazy summer in her family's cottage near the beach at Grand Isle in Louisiana. Her children are mostly watched by an unreliable servant (the term used to describe this woman is archaic and, according to the site where I looked it up, now considered offensive) while Edna spends the bulk of her time hanging out with Robert, a single man who is around her age, talking, taking walks or listening to music, wading into the ocean. She is learning how to swim but is not quite comfortable going far out into the water and has a frightening experience, at one point.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pontellier spends most of his time either at his club or ignoring everyone, especially his wife. He's disinterested in her until and unless she steps out of line.

"Sometimes I am tempted to think that Mrs. Pontellier is capricious," said Madame Lebrun, who was amusing herself immensely and feared that Edna's abrupt departure might put an end to the pleasure. 

"I know she is," assented Mr. Pontellier; "sometimes, not often."

~p. 37

Nobody is bothered by the fact that a married woman is publicly spending her time with a single man. The neighbors all know each other, both through the proximity of their vacation homes and socially, when they're back home in New Orleans. Edna's clearly a daydreamer and Robert is willing to listen to her flights of fancy. She's lightened by his presence.

When she and Robert stepped into Tonie's boat, with the red lateen sail, mostly spirit forms were prowling in the shadows and among the reeds, and upon the water were phantom ships, speeding to cover. 

~p. 51

But, then Robert abruptly decides to go and seek his fortune with some friends when a business opportunity in Mexico arises. After he leaves, Edna is lost. She is in love with Robert, feels penned in by her husband's demands for a certain type of behavior, restless, and probably depressed. When they return to New Orleans, Edna's longing grows more pronounced. A friend is receiving letters from Robert, but he isn't writing to Edna.

When Mr. Pontellier leaves town for an extended business trip, Edna purchases a small house next to her home and moves in. There, Robert eventually comes to visit her. But, when he makes it clear that he's not going to indulge in an affair or attempt to break up her marriage, Edna makes a fatal decision.

Recommended - I am utterly fascinated that, upon finally reading this classic I've heard was considered so scandalous upon its publication, I discovered it to be so mild. It seemed to me less a book about a woman who desired to have an affair and more a novel about a women whose husband was completely immune to her charms to the point of torturous indifference. She was clearly not just capricious and whimsical, although Edna certainly was a woman who danced to her own tune. I think The Awakening is really a story about a woman who is so choked by convention that it leaves her chronically depressed. Would Robert have been able to save her from herself, had he been willing? Hard to say. The ending both shocked me and was expected, though. I felt Edna's pain throughout the reading. Loved Chopin's prose. There were several of Kate Chopin's short stories included with the copy I read. At least one of those had a shocking twist ending, as well, and I closed the book wishing I'd read The Awakening with a buddy or a discussion group.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I don't have time to read The Awakening (or re-read it, since I think I read it decades ago), but here's enough of a discussion among experts on this book that reading this link may be like joining a conversation about it, like at a book club meeting. Enjoy!

  2. What? Mild? That's it. It's off my list. LOL. It has been on my list for at least a decade.


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