As a Louisiana native, English major, and self-proclaimed avid reader, I have read and studied “The Awakening” many times over. For the unfamiliar, it is about a woman who struggles against the bonds of her marriage, and the confines of society in Louisiana at the turn of the century. Here is the first line of the Goodreads synopsis.
When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity.
I was not a fan of The Awakening initially. As a teenager I found the protagonist whiny and didn’t really understand her struggle, or appreciate what Chopin was trying to convey. (You might be wondering while I am blathering on about this in my review of an entirely different novel. In the words of The Butler in Clue, “I’m getting there, I’m getting there.”)
Now, to compare, here is the first line of the Goodreads review of The House of Mirth:
First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social, and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.
I definitely had deja vu while reading this novel by Edith Wharton, and now I know why. I happened upon this book because I wanted something in the public domain that I could read on my Goodreads account. I remembered that I really liked Age of Innocence and really did not like Ethan Fromme so I decided to give Wharton another go. I’d put this one solidly between the two.
Wharton’s take down of her time period is pointed. The protoganist Lily Bart is at times sympathetic and others frustrating. She seems to understand the high society she so desperately wants a role in, but realizes far too late that she is not impervious to consequences and judgment as she jockeys for positioning. Though I liked most of the book, he fell apart for me a little at the end because I think it went on too long, which resulted in foreseeing the ending and feeling as if I was moving toward the inevitable, in slow motion.
Wharton obviously is respected in the literary world and rightfully so. If you are a woman, I strongly encourage you to pick this up, and if you liked The Awakening then I think you will like this too.