feminism

Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Dover Thrift Kindle Edition, 1899, 195p.

4 stars

I had no idea what to expect going into The Awakening, I’d heard that it was a feminist novel and quite different for its time, but I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I’m not sure if I would class this as a full blown novel, as it was quite short and seemed more like a novella in structure and tone, but that’s certainly not a detraction from this amazing book.

Chopin’s style is crisp and easy to understand – this is one of those novels that reads easily and without struggle. I read three quarters of this novel in ebook format, and listened to ten chapters in audiobook format. The audiobook seemed slower, while the ebook was much easier for me to follow. That’s most likely because I’m accustomed to reading as opposed to listening, but it was nice to be able to read while doing housework.

There was an amazing building of tension in The Awakening, after the first half I was constantly on tenterhooks waiting for the main character, Edna, to do what we were all waiting for her to do. Edna was sympathetically written and interesting, if at times seeming cold. Her descent into the ‘evils’ of lust and obsession is interesting and poignant. What I really loved is the way that this book is quite honest about emotions and the expectations of the time. While The Awakening is not erotic, it is honest about what is happening, and that this woman who was expected to be the perfectly proper woman was having these feelings that were not readily admitted to during these times. Edna is a brave character for Chopin to have written, and is wonderfully different from most of the other characters from the late 19th century (although Sybella from My Brilliant Career was also breaking stereotypes, but in a completely different way.)

I would have loved for The Awakening to have been a little longer, maybe for the affair to have developed more before the devastating ending occurred. Also, while talking about that ending – how heartbreaking! A more astute reader could have come to understand what the ending of the book would be half way through, but I was delightfully unawares and did not expect or suspect it! Which lead to me freaking out and yelling to the significant other what had just happened. Heartbreaking. Uh. Chopin – you brilliant writer, you completely trampled my emotions and now you’re returning them worse for wear. I’m not giving you back your deposit.

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My Personal War on Romance…

Ranty Runt's Rants

There have been some excellent posts recently about “romance shaming” and the battle that female authors have to be recognised and appreciated. Karin Kallmaker posted a series of great responses to an article published in the National Post, written by Jowita Bydlowska, that dismissed works in the romance genre as being lesser and lamenting that her novel wasn’t appreciated, as it should have been, by fans of these ‘lesser works.’

I’ve been sitting on a post for the past week about romance novels and cliché, but a series of very interesting articles about the romance genre made me reconsider my own viewpoint. The following is some of the thoughts that I have had about my reading habits in the past week.

I posted a comment to a very interesting blog about clichés that discussed which clichés readers enjoyed and  abhorred, and I noticed that my response was solely about clichés I disliked in the romance genre – a genre I hardly read.

Honestly, I don’t read any romance, and the few I have read over the years have been ones set by my English professors. I value the genre as much as any other, I acknowledge that many of the greatest works of literature fall under the umbrella of romance, but I just haven’t enjoyed reading them. I read action novels, thrillers and books about men saving the world from nuclear disaster. It is possible that I will come to love the romance genre as I currently love thrillers, I have no idea where my interests are headed, and I like the mystery of the journey. I considered all of this evidence of not dismissing romance, and thought to myself –  I’m obviously okay because I don’t hold romance in lesser esteem than other genres.

I WAS WRONG.

I’ve taken a critical look over my reading lists, and have been disappointed in myself. I may not read romance (which is fine!) but there was a more important group missing from my goodreads read list – female authors.

  1. Of the 24 books I’ve read this year so far, only 1 was written by a woman. (I disliked it because I chose to read from a genre I don’t usually enjoy.)
  2. Last year I read 4 books by female authors. FOUR. Two of the four were prescribed in my university reading list.
  3. I generally give lower ratings to female authors.

The above three points make me ill. They make me want to take action, however, I’m not about to read a bunch of classics written by women to fix this skew in my reading. I’ll rate them lower (I tend to rate classics on a more critical scale, genre fiction on level of enjoyment) and lead to more of point 3 occurring. Also, I want to help female authors in the now – the women who have written excellent books but can’t get a foot in the door because they are writing for male dominated genres.

I’ve never been asked to review my reading habits, and my excuse in my head for the imbalance in male vs. female authors, is that the genres I read are male dominated domains. Which is definitely true, you don’t see much military fiction or military non-fiction being written by women. But just because I don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I need to hunt out female authors who write in the genres I enjoy reading, and add them to my reading list. Not only will I get to explore more authors, but they will also gain a reader (and sometime reviewer), and although I personally won’t change anything for that author, maybe if enough people make the same decision, it would.

I’d also like to think more critically about the characters in the books I read. In ‘Death Force,’ a book I finished a week ago, the main character had a female love interest (it’s always hetero-normative too) and she made breakfast for a group of soldiers. All throughout the book the men had been making breakfast for one another, so this didn’t seem odd or offensive – it was the following line (and I’ve returned the book to the library so this isn’t a direct quote) that jumped out and slapped me in the face – ‘that it was good for the men to have a woman cook them breakfasts, because it was like a piece of normalcy.’ Like seriously, WTF. The mental picture of every man having a woman in the kitchen cooking him breakfast, as is her job? I hate it.

I’d like more female characters in the books I read to be complex, involved and strong. I don’t think of women in terms of men’s love interests, and that is how we are always portrayed in action novels. I’m not saying I only want to read female characters saving the world single handed-ly, but on occasion maybe we sould be given that honour. Only if it doesn’t inconvenience the worldview of the author, of course.

 

Other installments in Ranty Runt’s Rants:

The worst time to love a reader
My personal war on romance
Breaking a blogging slump