“He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.”
When The Awakening was published in 1899, it caused a huge scandal. Chopin had previously found success with her short stories, but was horrified by the public outcry to The Awakening and wrote very little else afterwards. She died in 1904.
Reading the story now, with all of the benefits of a modern viewpoint, it is difficult to marry the shocked nineteenth century audience with the story in front of me. There is very little which is out of the ordinary – and certainly nothing which would bring the shock value of a French author of the same time period. Rather, it seems that the particular element that Chopin’s readers found so shocking is the treatment of her heroine, Edna, as an autonomous human being – not the property of her husband, not existing solely for the comfort of her children.
With this in mind, the overwhelming emotion when I read this tale was one of sadness. A woman doing something as simple as deciding that she was unhappy and changing things for herself was met with such outrage, only just over one hundred years ago. Although we have come so far, it filled me with anger that so many women have lived before without those mundane freedoms we can tend to take for granted.
I think everyone should read this book. Look back, see how things were, and then let’s all move forwards together.
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