The Awakening, and Other Stories

By Kate Chopin; Pamela Knights | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

"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

____________________
1
Unless otherwise indicated, all cited reviews may be found in the useful selection reprinted in Alice Hall Petry (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin ( New York: G. K. Hall, 1996), 37-58.
2
Letter from Sue V. Moore (? 1899), rpt. in A Kate Chopin Miscellany, ed. Per Seyersted and Emily Toth ( Oslo: Universitetsforlaget and Natchitoches: Northwestern State Univ. of Louisiana, 1979), 133 (subsequently, KCM).
3
Letter from [Lizzie] L. ( 16 May 1899), in KCM, 135.

-ix-

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The Awakening, and Other Stories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Awakening and Other Stories i
  • Oxford World''s Classics ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Note on the Texts xliv
  • Select Bibilography xlix
  • A Chronology of Kate Chopin lvi
  • The Awakening 3
  • Wiser Than a God 129
  • A Point at Issue! 139
  • The Maid of Saint Phillippe 156
  • Doctor Chevalier''s Lie 164
  • Beyond the Bayou 166
  • Old Aunt Peggy 173
  • Ripe Figs 174
  • Miss McEnders 175
  • At the ''Cadian Ball 183
  • The Father of Désirée''s Baby 193
  • Caline 199
  • A Matter of Prejudice 202
  • Azélie 209
  • A Lady of Bayou St. John 218
  • Tonie 229
  • A Gentleman of Bayou Teche 240
  • In Sabine 246
  • A Respectable Woman 255
  • The Dream of an Hour 259
  • Lilacs 262
  • Regret 274
  • The Kiss 278
  • Her Letters 281
  • Athénaïse 289
  • The Unexpected 320
  • Vagabonds 324
  • A Pair of Silk Stockings 327
  • An Egyptian Cigarette 332
  • Elizabeth Stock''s One Story 336
  • The Storm a Sequel to "The''Cadian Ball" 342
  • Appendix - Louisiana Observed- Regional Writing and Kate Chopin''s People and Languages 348
  • Explanatory Notes 360
  • Glossary 408
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