First published in 1899, Kate Chopin's The Awakening provoked significant controversy because of its engagement with the taboo issues of female sexuality and infidelity. Chopin depicts Edna Pontellier as repeatedly flouting convention in the search for autonomy and self-fulfilment outside of her role as middle-class wife and mother. She creates a heroine who boldly claims, 'I don't want anything but my own way', and thus offers a direct challenge to the expectations of Victorian society in America. The censure and moral indignation prompted by the novel was expressed in a rash of outraged reviews; the text quickly went out of print and remained so for almost fifty years, during which time it was essentially unremarked, ignored by critics.
The effects of this early reception and publication history belie the level of popularity which the novel enjoys today; it now has a reputation as an important early feminist text. The recovery and re-evaluation of Chopin's writing is due, in large part, to the efforts of the Norwegian scholar, Per Seyersted, who published her collected works in 1969. During the 1970s, Chopin's questioning of the limited roles available to women in her writing struck a chord with the second wave feminist movement, generating much scholarship and critical debate. In recent times Kate Chopin's literary reputation has grown. Once considered a fair practitioner of 'local colour' fiction whose dalliance with risqué material ensured a passage into literary obscurity, she is now widely regarded as a major figure in American letters. Her work has broad appeal to a modern readership and The Awakening is regularly included on undergraduate courses.
This Sourcebook is designed as a guide for the undergraduate student of The Awakening; it will situate the text in its historical and social context, highlight major thematic strains in the novel, and aid negotiation of the wide-ranging and sometimes complex theoretical debates surrounding the work. The bringing together of documents from the period of the novel's composition, a selection of modern critical work and key passages annotated to illustrate their significance serves to enrich the student readership's understanding of the text. This volume offers the reader a tool with which to approach The Awakening, and through which to formulate responses to the various readings the work invites. It is