“Free! Body and soul free!”

#20 of 2011 ▪ The Awakening and Other Stories by Kate Chopin.

It felt that me and Kate Chopin were particularly fated. Chopin felt like my kind of writer—hadn’t I loved her “The Dream of an Hour” when I read it at 14, along with a freshman class largely too indifferent at 7:30 in the morning to care for anything other than coffee or cigarettes or the girl they met the night before? Had I not been as shaken and ecstatic as Mrs. Louise Mallard when she whispered, over and over again, under her breath, “Free! Body and soul free!”? Here was “a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely”—free, children, free!

There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.

I loved this story—alternately titled “The Story of an Hour”—when I read it years ago, and I love it still. Those few minutes of Louise’s pure, monstrous joy—and that conclusion! It’s one of the simplest and saddest stories I’ve ever read.

And so it was with great excitement that I set out to read more of her work. I started with her short stories first, found them as lyrical, as simple, as charged with monstrous joys. Here are long-suffering women, cruel women, bored women, virtuous women—but all of them were complex, whole. The adulterous wife eating a corner of a letter sent to her by her lover? The debutante’s love shriveling at the face of her suitor’s misfortune? Illicit kisses, sly looks across the room!

Needless to say, I loved her Other Stories. The novel The Awakening itself? Not so much.

Again, for all intents and purposes, I should love this novel, “its daring criticisms of the limits of marriage and motherhood”—the discovery of the self, what one is when one calls oneself a woman. Mrs. Edna Pontellier and I were supposed to be chummy.

But it didn’t happen. I spent weeks laboring over the first half of The Awakening, arguably Chopin’s most famous work—and I got nowhere. I let it alone, picked it up again. I don’t hate it, no—I just didn’t like it enough for me to have any, erm, emotional investment in it. I was bored in a few places, and tolerant in most. It’s baffling, really. And I do not want to dwell any more than I already have. Sigh.

Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Other Stories was sent to me by Oxford World’s Classics—thank you kindly. I regret that it did not work out completely.

PS 01 – If I were stranded in a bookstore during a zombie apocalypse, and I had to take only one of the last two books with me as I fled to safety—I would definitely take this book and leave Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s, who definitely isn’t my cup of tea.

PS 02 – I just read this wonderful story of madness and self-discovery. That sounds odd, but it’s wonderful. It’s The Outward Room by Millen Brand, and I devoured it and it’s so very good. I’m desperately trying to write a coherent entry about it, haha.

PS 03 – This is a fly-by theory: perhaps there couldn’t be a deep relationship between Mrs. Edna Pontellier and I, because, well, she wasn’t Mrs. Emma Bovary? Yes, I know they are two very different creatures—but, well, doesn’t it testify to my fondness for weirdos like Emma? Judge me, Universe, judge me!

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6 comments

  1. bummer. I was looking forward to AWAKENING. I found Chopin’s stories okay, although I too LOVE Story of an Hour and I also like a Pair of Silk Stockings. Still going to give it a try and see what I think.

  2. Jennifer · · Reply

    Oh my word, what a beautiful cover!

    I’ve only read one of Kate Chopin’s works, and that was The Awakening, which I too didn’t like. Personally, I found Edna whiny and childish, a overgrown girl throwing a tantrum instead of a strong woman making a counter-cultural statement. (Is that me being too harsh?) But I will look into Chopin’s other works. I was sold by your enthusiasm. :)

    Also — I just noticed that you have Never Let Me Go on your sidebar. Can I just say, AWESOME? I watched the movie, and loved it. Haven’t read the book yet, but I’m working on it.

  3. […] Louise is ecstatic at the face of so much freedom, not unlike her namesake Louise Mallard of Chopin’s “The Dream of an Hour.” But the troubles start soon enough. Our Louise’s heartbreak is more protracted: learning of the […]

  4. @Rebecca, @Jennifer:
    I was really looking forward to The Awakening, but just couldn’t get through the bog. Your comment, especially, Jennifer, on how Edna was — it was the same for me too. :]

    But, again, her other stories — especially the short and sweet and devastating “The Dream[/Story] of An Hour” — I loved.

  5. […] The Awakening and Other Stories, by Kate Chopin. […]

  6. […] I’m scared that she’ll disappoint me. I don’t want my reaction to her ending up similar to Kate Chopin or Charlotte Perkins Gilman who were awesome literary movers and shakers in their own right, but […]

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