Monday, January 10, 2011

The Awakening, 1/100

What a great start to the challenge!

Nevermind that I said I would read A Canticle for Leibowitz first. I AM reading it. But I'll be reading 2-3 books simultaneously this year (like I usually am, actually), and Kate Chopin's The Awakening just happened to be shorter.

How did I go 25 years without reading this? Really, teachers? Professors? You never thought it appropriate to assign this book to me? Did you really need to make us read Oedipus Rex 1.5 billion times, instead of making room for this novel? And do you really need elbow patches on your tweed jackets? REALLY.

Friggin' loved this book.

And apologies if I come off like a teenager who's just discovered the Beatles. Maybe you're all out there wearing sunglasses and smoking cigarettes saying "oh yeah, we knew about this for AGES, darling. You're so 1898..." But that's the point of this thing. To read what apparently everyone else has read, and thinks is worthwhile.

So here's why I liked it:

...Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight...

But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, tangled, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult!

"...when I left her today, she put her arms around me and felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. 'The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.'"
"Whither would you soar?"
"I'm not thinking of any extraordinary flights. I only half comprehend her."
"I've heard she's partially demented," said Arobin.
"She seems to me wonderfully sane," Edna replied.
"I'm told she's extremely disagreeable and unpleasant. Why have you introduced her at a moment when I desired to talk of you?"
"Oh! talk of me if you like," cried Edna, clasping her hands beneath her head; "but let me think of something else while you do."

"I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself."

The little glimpse of domestic harmony which had been offered her, gave her no regret, no longing. It as not a condition of life which fitted her, and she could see in it but an appalling and hopeless ennui. She was moved by a kind of commiseration for Madame Ratignolle,--a pity for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life's delirium. Edna vaguely wondered what she meant by "life's delirium." It had crossed her thought like some unsought, extraneous impression.

And I'm going to try, for each book, to pick out one phrase, sentence, or section, that I feel encompasses the entire feel of the novel. Basically, an "if I could sum up this novel in one word it would be..." kind of thing. It was easy for this one.

He looked at Edna's book, which he had read; and he told her the end, to save her the trouble of wading through it, he said.

That single sentence speaks volumes.

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