Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"The Awakening"

Kate Chopin's The Awakening is the latest book featured in the Guardian series adapted from Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. (Click here for earlier installments.) Smiley gets it right:

What the novel has to offer, among other things, is honesty. To the eternal question of how women are to be disposed of as both objects and agents, Kate Chopin offers an antecedent question: why is there a problem? And she also asks: what if society cannot provide the answer?
When Chopin published The Awakening in 1899 society was perhaps further from answers to those questions than we are today. (Perhaps.) I'm therefore prepared to credit the book its pathbreaking status for taking on those issues.

And yet I was underwhelmed by the novel when I read it some years ago. Smiley is correct that the plot isn't the greatest but that Chopin is much better with "the depiction of the gradual change of [the protagonist] Edna's way of seeing the world and for the sympathy [Chopin] shows her."

My greatest joy linked to The Awakening was reading Robert Stone's Children of Light (1986), one of my favorite twice-told tales. Stone's novel is about the making of a movie about The Awakening with his characters dealing with some of the same issues and themes as Chopin's. Children of Light was not as critically successful as some of Stone's other novels but it is one of my favorites, partly because I appreciate the way he takes on the Chopin story.

David Bowman called Children of Light one of the "great noir novels from the post-Chandler generations."

The Awakening and some of Chopin's short stories are available free online here.

For other posts on "twice-told tales," click here, here, and here.

--Marshal Zeringue