Literary Wives: The Awakening

Today is my first review for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening!

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book


The Awakening by Kate Chopin was published in 1899 and apparently shocked readers with it’s honest portrayal of female infidelity. Edna Pontellier lives a conventional life: she manages her family’s home, she is married to a man concerned with appearances, and has two small children that she’s not really very interested in. In the summers, the Pontelliers go to Grand Isle, a popular vacation spot for wealthy Creole families like hers. This is where she meets Robert Lebrun and begins a flirtation with him that changes the way she sees herself and her relationship with her husband, Leonce.

Not only does Edna flirt with Lebrun, she kisses him, and later, moves out of her husband’s home when he leaves town where she has a physical relationship with another man!

Ultimately, Edna realizes that she is too changed by her affairs and will never be able to find any kind of satisfaction in the life expected of her. She returns to Grand Isle one last time, finds it too has changed in the off season, and walks into the water one last time.

My Thoughts

Anyone who has visited this blog before knows how I feel about heroines calling their own shots. I was thrilled to read a book from 1899 where a female character was given the autonomy, despite the consequences.

Instinct had prompted her to put away her husband’s bounty in casting off her allegiance. She did not know how it would be when he returned. There would have to be an understanding, an explanation. Conditions would some way adjust themselves, she felt; but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.

Edna understands that what she is doing is different, that it sets her apart, that people will talk about her. But her own happiness, getting to know herself as Edna, not her children’s mother or her husband’s wife matters to her. In 1899, this would have been so radical and I loved it.

In the end, its a completely tragic story but it felt like an important milestone in women-centred literature.

What does the book say about being a wife? 

At the time the book was published, a woman would have been expected to submit herself completely to the desires of her husband. She would have become a mother and would always come last. Edna isn’t content to relinquish herself in service of the needs and desires of her family. She wants to be her own woman, her own person with ideas and thoughts and wants of her own.

The Awakening doesn’t allow a woman to have both herself and her family. Edna must choose. In this way, the book is very much a product of its time.

She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought they could possess her, body and soul.

This book shows us that, in order to be happy and satisfied in the role of a wife (and mother in this case), one must have something that is entirely one’s own. That solitude and introspection, a creative outlet and maybe even physical space is necessary to be able to give so much of ourselves in marriage.

11 thoughts on “Literary Wives: The Awakening

  1. I wonder if the fact that she wasn’t successful in her attempt to become independent of her husband (even though she knew she wanted to be) was simply because she had no idea what it would look like, or how to go about it… because she had no blueprint for it, had never seen it done before? Maybe the only way she could perceive of leaving her husband was to be taken away (and taken care of) by another man? But then you’re still the possession of a man – just a different one. And the fallout of being left by the second man would be even worse.
    I like to think that the fact that a woman wrote this book in 1899 was a baby step in the right direction.
    Great last paragraph!

    • I mean, what else could a woman at the time do?? She wouldn’t have been allowed to WORK, she would have been disgraced. I’m reminded of The House of Mirth – unable to earn her own way, unwilling to compromise and marry for money, Lily Bart makes the same choice. Another man or suicide. BLEAK.

  2. I’m not so sure I agree with your last paragraph. Of course, what you are saying is true, but in terms of the book, I think it says that she is unable to have her own space and time as a married woman, and it’s a protest against her lack of choices.

    • I think in that brief time, when she had her own home and her husband was away, she did find a kind of happiness. But ultimately she knew that that wasn’t sustainable and she made the only choice that she felt she could. Had she found a way to keep her own life – her little house, hobbies, friends of her own – I think she could have been happy.

      • Yeah, that’s what I mean. She tries to make a life where she is herself, but she is really just waiting for Robert to come home, which makes her affair with Arobin harder to understand.

    • Your comment reminds me of the (long) short story “Room 19” by Doris Lessing. The main character becomes a wife and mother, but something is wrong. She needs her own space, so the husband rents her the same room in the same building on a certain day each week. It’s a really compelling story!

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