"I have got into a habit of expressing myself. It doesn't matter to me, and you may think me unwomanly if you like," insists Edna Pontellier towards the end of The Awakening (p. 117). In 1899 Edna, and Kate Chopin, startled readers. For some, Chopin had betrayed her calling. This was 'gilded dirt'. Her material could 'hardly be described in language fit for publication'; her tone was unhealthy and morbid; her influence potentially dire: 'The worst of such stories is that they will come into the hands of youth, leading them to dwell on things that only matured persons can understand, and promoting unholy imaginations and unclean desires.' Just as Edna should have 'flirted less and looked after her children more', her creator, in refraining from pointing a moral, was 'one more clever author gone wrong'. As The Nation's reviewer summed up: The Awakening is the sad story of a Southern lady who wanted to do what she wanted to. From wanting to, she did, with disastrous consequences.'1 Both author and heroine, in short, had wilfully pursued unwomanly ends. But for others, the work was an extraordinary achievement, something entirely new: 'Your book is great! I have just finished it and am wild to talk to you about it --' wrote one excited friend.2 Friends and reviewers alike, even some of the most disapproving, exclaimed over Chopin's 'consummate art'. Many were struck by the force of her subject matter, praising it in surprisingly modern terms: 'it is a psychological study -- the development of a soul -- an awakening to the possibilities of life -- an emancipation of the whole being from the trammels of conventionalism.'3 Others, conceding that The Awakening was indeed 'not for the young person', welcomed her respect for the powers of her readers: Chopin wrote for 'seasoned souls'.
Such comments make clear that contemporary reactions were by____________________