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The Awakening and Selected Stories (1899)

de Kate Chopin

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The Awakening and Selected Storiesis Kate Chopin's groundbreaking depiction of a woman who dares to defy the expectations of society in the pursuit of her desire, edited with an introduction by Sandra M. Gilbert in Penguin Classics. When 'The Awakening' was first published in 1899, charges of sordidness and immorality seemed to consign it into obscurity and irreparably damage its author's reputation. But a century after her death, it is widely regarded as Kate Chopin's great achievement. Through careful, subtle changes of style, Chopin shows the transformation of Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, who - with tragic consequences - refuses to be caged by married and domestic life, and claims for herself moral and erotic freedom. In her introduction, Sandra M. Gilbert considers the issues explored in the novel and the stories collected here (including 'Emancipation', 'At the 'cadian Ball', and 'Desiree's baby') from their growth out of the feminist literary tradition of the nineteenth century, to their place among other concerns of fin de si clewriters in America and Europe, to their impact on contemporary feminist writing. Katherine O'Flaherty (1850-1904), known by her married name Kate Chopin, was an American author of short stories and novels. Her works appeared in literary magazines and popular American periodicals of the day, including Vogueand The Atlantic. In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening, was published to much outrage and harsh criticism based upon moral, rather than literary, standards. If you enjoyed The Awakening and Selected Stories, you might enjoy Jean Rhys's Good Morning Midnight, also available in Penguin Classics.… (més)
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Originally titled A Solitary Soul, the novel depicts a young mother’s struggle to achieve sexual and personal emancipation in the oppressive environment of the postbellum American South. When it was first published, it was widely condemned for its portrayal of sexuality and marital infidelity. Today it is considered a landmark work of early feminist fiction.
Plot summary

The Awakening opens on an island in Grand Isle, Louisiana, where 28-year-old Edna Pontellier is vacationing with her Creole husband, Léonce, and their two children, Etienne and Raoul. Léonce works during the week, leaving Edna to look after the children. Edna, however, spends most of her time with Madame Adèle Ratignolle, a fellow vacationer on the island. Charming, elegant, and subservient, Madame Ratignolle is the ideal “mother-woman.” Her identity is almost entirely subsumed by her familial role: she exists as if only to meet the needs and wants of her family. Ironically, it is Madame Ratignolle who catalyzes Edna’s “awakening.” Unlike Edna, Madame Ratignolle grew up around Creole women, who taught her to discuss and express her emotions freely. Her openness emboldens Edna, ultimately inspiring her to let go of her reservations.

One of the central themes in the novel is that of self-ownership. Also called bodily autonomy, self-ownership was a key tenet of 19th-century feminism. It signified a woman’s right to have control over her own body and identity. So-called first-wave feminists argued that women could gain their freedom only by refusing to allow other people—namely, men—to exercise control over their bodies. They focused, in particular, on a wife’s right to refuse sexual relations with her husband. Their argument was that a woman’s service as a wife and mother entitled her to ownership of her body and, therefore, the right to refuse to have sex or be impregnated.

The heroine of The Awakening longs for this kind of bodily autonomy. She is relentless in the pursuit of authority over her own person. Edna resists objectification by her husband, who looks at her “as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property.” She challenges Robert when he suggests that she is “not free” and must be “set…free” by her husband in order for them to be together. Her response to Robert clearly borrows from the rhetoric of first-wave feminists:

You have been a very, very foolish boy, wasting your time dreaming of impossible things when you speak of Mr. Pontellier setting me free! I am no longer one of Mr. Pontellier’s possessions to dispose of or not. I give myself where I choose. If he were to say, “Here, Robert, take her and be happy; she is yours,” I should laugh at you both.

In the end, she keeps to the vow she made upon moving into the pigeon house: she will “never again belong to another than herself.”

Edna’s story is laden with symbolism. The sea is perhaps the most important symbol in the novel. It variously represents baptism, cleansing, and rebirth. In The Awakening, Chopin constructs the sea as a space of freedom—a space outside and away from patriarchal society. For Edna the sea serves as a source of empowerment and a place of refuge. In the beginning it entices her with its “seductive odor” and “sonorous murmur.”

Chopin imbues the sea with maternal qualities, ultimately likening it to a womb, “enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” Although Edna longs for such comfort, she is uneasy in the water. Unless accompanied, she feels “a certain ungovernable dread.” Edna’s first solo swim thus marks a critical moment in her awakening. In learning to swim, Edna conquers her fears and takes control of her body. She effectively realizes her independence:

A feeling of exultation overtook her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul. She grew daring and reckless, overestimating her strength. She wanted to swim far out, where no woman had swum before.

In the water, Edna is reminded of the vastness of the universe and of her position within it. As she contemplates her significance (or lack thereof), her thoughts turn to death. Weeks later, when Edna reflects on the experience, she recalls the freedom she felt in the Gulf. With Robert gone and her solitude made plain, she resolves to return to the womb of the sea. In the last scene of the novel, Edna swims into the sea, naked as she came, “and the musky odor of pinks filled the air." ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Jan 19, 2022 |
Reread from high school; I remembered almost nothing but the ending. The writing is beautiful. ( )
  beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
Read. ( )
  sasameyuki | May 15, 2020 |
I want to report that I finished [The Awakening] by [[Kate Chopin]].

Published in 1899, the novel roused quite a bit of shock, horror, righteous scolding, and that whole brouhaha. The story of a young married woman with children who tires of society's stifling customs, routines, and rules, who discovers her diligent, respectable, responsible, and seemingly loving husband is...well...kind of boring, and who awakens to the sensual pleasures of music, art, and, yes, physical love. It doesn't end well for her.

After its initial publication, The Awakening went out of print and was forgotten. In the 1950s (I think) it was reprinted and emerged as a respected novel.

The author, Kate Chopin, was Irish-American, born as Katherine O'Flaherty. She married a Creole businessman and settled with him in Louisiana (the setting of The Awakening). Mr. Chopin's cotton brokerage failed. Upon his death, his widow and six children were saddled with considerable debt. She turned to writing.

The Awakening is a low-key, exquisitely written, and only 130 pages long. Chopin tackles the issues and ideas that fuel the novels of Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, Henry James, and other turn-of-the-century writers. She does very well.
  weird_O | Feb 10, 2017 |
A milestone for feminism and realism, Chopin's masterpiece is as relevant today as it was over a century ago. ( )
  Birdo82 | Jan 15, 2017 |
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Kate Chopinautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Gilbert, Sandra M.Editorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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In February 1899, while The Awakening was in press, Kate Chopin wrote a poem called "The Haunted Chamber," in which a male speaker tells the tale "Of a fair, frail, passionate woman who fell." -- from the Introduction
A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: "Allez vous-en! Allez vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"
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Contains the novel The Awakening and 12 other short stories, including "Emancipation" (see description for exact titles)
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The Awakening and Selected Storiesis Kate Chopin's groundbreaking depiction of a woman who dares to defy the expectations of society in the pursuit of her desire, edited with an introduction by Sandra M. Gilbert in Penguin Classics. When 'The Awakening' was first published in 1899, charges of sordidness and immorality seemed to consign it into obscurity and irreparably damage its author's reputation. But a century after her death, it is widely regarded as Kate Chopin's great achievement. Through careful, subtle changes of style, Chopin shows the transformation of Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, who - with tragic consequences - refuses to be caged by married and domestic life, and claims for herself moral and erotic freedom. In her introduction, Sandra M. Gilbert considers the issues explored in the novel and the stories collected here (including 'Emancipation', 'At the 'cadian Ball', and 'Desiree's baby') from their growth out of the feminist literary tradition of the nineteenth century, to their place among other concerns of fin de si clewriters in America and Europe, to their impact on contemporary feminist writing. Katherine O'Flaherty (1850-1904), known by her married name Kate Chopin, was an American author of short stories and novels. Her works appeared in literary magazines and popular American periodicals of the day, including Vogueand The Atlantic. In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening, was published to much outrage and harsh criticism based upon moral, rather than literary, standards. If you enjoyed The Awakening and Selected Stories, you might enjoy Jean Rhys's Good Morning Midnight, also available in Penguin Classics.

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