The Awakening by Kate Chopin

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Feminist fiction so shocking and ill-received by critics that Chopin never wrote another novel.

So what was the controversy?

Edna is a beautiful southern belle; wife and mother. The family summer on the gorgeous islands of the Gulf of Mexico. There Edna meets a young man and falls passionately in love, all in beautiful lyrical prose. As she falls in love, so Edna is awakened.

The mood shifts as she returns to the city. Edna becomes entirely selfish- not a moral judgement on my part, it’s more that she totally gives way to her wants and desires. She’s a terrible wife and mother (ok, maybe that’s a judgement), but a more authentic version of herself with her painting and love for music.

My sympathy for Edna as a character is limited- she’s wilful, erratic and capricious. But it is very easy to empathise with her- Chopin has a real knack for describing mood, feelings and emotions.

So were the critics correct? Is it selfishness and disregard or a feminist sexual awakening, throwing off traditional gender roles? Both, I suppose. However, the main thing is you don’t have to like Edna to understand her.

Read: when you desperately want something you can’t have.

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