Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Kate Chopin – The Awakening

Book Cover

Against the grain.

Publisher: Various (I read Vintage Classics’ edition)
Pages: N/A
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
First Published: 1899
Date Reviewed: 22nd May 2015
Rating: 5/5

Holidaying with her husband and children on Grand Isle, Edna becomes friendly with Robert, a man close to her age who seems taken with her. On returning home she starts to feel limited in her life as a wife and mother, and slowly begins to make a play for freedom.

The Awakening is a book far ahead of its time. A novella that restricts itself to its subject, in the context of our present day it offers a look at the sort of repressed thoughts women of the late 19th century may have had.

The story, whilst upsetting – of course – is somewhat sublime. You can almost feel the liberties Chopin is taking by writing about the theme in her time and you can predict some of the tale simply due to the fact our society is different. One could argue that Chopin, whilst writing for her own society, has found her target audience in our modern selves – we may not be in a position to be affected in the way she might have wished, because our society has moved on, but we can still relate.

The Awakening was originally going to be called Solitude. It’s not known who changed it – Chopin or her publisher – or why they did, but ‘Solitude’ does express what Edna’s mission is all about. As she is ‘awakened’ to her individuality, her sexuality, Edna seeks time for herself. She may want Robert but she also wants to pursue painting, time to go out rather than play host to every woman who brings her card on a Tuesday, a place of her own bought with her inheritance rather than the house her husband owns.

It’s all about person-hood and, in a way, selfishness. That Edna is selfish is something that was comprehended most by her peers; today it will be down to the individual reader as to whether or not she is so. And it’s an interesting one because Edna is understandable, too. Selfish not because she wants to be free but because we can see how her responsibilities put her in a position that we frown upon today, namely the neglect of her children. The story makes you question how much ‘right’ a mother has to her own time. Chopin brings up the important point that a woman can love her children and still need alone time – in the context of her time that was a particular issue.

Chopin looks at the way a woman in her society was considered owned by her husband, belonging to him. She shows how a woman might want to refute the notion and the use of a fictional character allows her to give physical action to the thought. It’s interesting to note Chopin wrote as a widow; she would’ve likely had more freedom than most of her peers, indeed we could see her in Mademoiselle Reisz. Widowhood also means she would’ve experienced both sides of life – belonging and free – and that she married the man she wished surely influenced the way she writes Edna’s hopes for Robert.

There is plenty of symbolism in the book – birds, Mademoiselle Reisz, the sea. The sea features throughout, both ‘in person’ and as something Edna remembers. It’s the catalyst for change. It represents the freedom Edna wishes for, life without limits, and mirrors her memories of childhood, a meadow’s horizon.

The ending is particularly poignant. You may predict it, you may not, either way it is both satisfying and not so. It’s where Chopin is most bold yet questions are often asked as to why it was written. Is it weakness or freedom? It’s up to the reader to decide because it is also ambiguous. There’s a lot to it, it’s powerful, and you’ll be considering it for days.

The Awakening will awaken in you a love for Chopin. It’s superb; it’s one to savour, to think about, and to add to your knowledge of both literature and social history.

Related Books

None yet

H G Wells – The Time Machine

Book Cover

Perfection, utopia, would be our undoing.

Publisher: N/A
Pages: N/A
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
First Published: 1895
Date Reviewed: 21st January 2015
Rating: 4.5/5

Gathering together various types of people, the time traveller tells them of his plans for a time machine and later his experiences of the year 802701.

The Time Machine was the first science fiction book to feature a machine for time travel. It’s short without seeming so, brimming with messages, and, almost shockingly, impossible to read without taking the author into account. It’s also a very, very, good book.

Told in the same way as More’s Utopia, The Time Machine is the report of a person who was at both gatherings and who provides the details and dialogues from those evenings. This means that you get both a first-hand account and the benefit of various opinions (even if they may not actually be benefits in the literal sense). You do not witness the time traveller’s adventures for yourself, however the story is engrossing all the same as Wells spares no details.

The messages at the heart of the story are about the future of humanity (the moral, emotional, sympathetic kind) and humanity as a society. Also studied is the eradication of the world’s woes, intelligence, and any sort of work. Wells, a socialist, looks at an extreme version of communism and speaks of the shocking consequences, but later draws back a little. It is interesting to note how the time traveller’s perceptions change the longer he spends in the future and how easily he fears a secondary people perhaps, simply, because he just happened to meet the others first. It’s ironic to watch how a man so bent on moving into the future suddenly realises he should have stayed in his own time – it begs the question of whether time travel should remain a fantasy.

There are no aliens in the book, no wars or fights for survival. The book is rather unique except for the very end of the journey. It’s the case that you may have read a lot of futuristic science fiction, but you won’t have come across anything quite like this.

Of special note is the conversation leading up to the time travel discussion during which Wells looks at philosophy, physics, mathematics. Questions are asked, interesting answers as well as supposedly true (I’m no scientist) answers provided, and even if your takeaway will be the future, the physics makes interesting reading.

There is fun to be had in the conversation. The Medical Man says ‘our ancestors had no great tolerance for anachronisms’ which he might as well have extended to the present day. Someone points out that investments could be made in the past and the rewards reaped in the present. And there is the fine point made that we already travel in time when we remember past events from our lives.

The Time Machine delves into the future only to long for the past. It portrays a possibility that is as relevant to consider today as it was in the year the book was written, and it looks at the way misunderstandings can occur, even between people who do not exist. It is an excellent work that provides much food for thought and much to study and all this for only a couple of hours of your time – you could visit and return from 802701 in less.

Related Books

Book coverBook cover