The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics.

The Classics Reclamation Project

Well! It’s been a while since I’ve posted about a classic. That’s partly due to a busy summer schedule and partly to the fact that I’ve been reading War and Peace like crazy to catch up to Jillian’s year-long readalong. At the start of July, I was back in February with the readalong, but at this point I’m up to mid-June. And even better — I’m really enjoying the massive tome!

I also co-read The Awakening by Kate Chopin with my new partner in CRP, Hannah of Here Be Dragons. It was a reread for her, but this was my first time reading a book I’ve heard about often. I can’t say it was one of my favorite books, but I didn’t hate it and it was definitely worth reading.

I’m not sure I can discuss the book without spoilers, so consider yourself warned!

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (cover)Going in, I only knew The Awakening was about a woman who went against what was socially acceptable in her time. Without knowing more, I expected a sticky extramarital affair and its repercussions. As I began reading, I could feel the novel building up to something, which I assumed was the imagined affair, perhaps a break between Edna and her husband with scandal to follow. In fact, I read with this assumption until quite literally the last page.

Thus, for nearly the whole novel, I’ll admit I was a bit impatient with Edna. I don’t like affairs in novels, as I often find it hard to sympathize with the characters involved, so I didn’t want the book to go where I thought it was headed. I tried to give Edna the benefit of the doubt, to consider her time in history and how few options would have been available for her once she decided to pursue her passion. As Edna’s “awakening” progressed, though, I started to see that the changes were bigger than a simple affair, though I still expected the same illicit relationship to crown the novel’s conclusion.

So when I realized what Edna was doing at the end as she walked out into the water, I was caught completely off guard. I was struck by how limited her choices must have been for her to have taken the measures she did. I felt like I’d read the novel all wrong, like I needed to go back and read it again without my suspicions and assumptions. I felt I owed that to Edna. Maybe someday I’ll come back to it, with the real ending in mind throughout.

I’m glad I’ve finally checked The Awakening off my list. As I said, it wasn’t one of my favorite novels, but it provides plenty to consider and gives an idea of a woman’s situation a startlingly short time ago.

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  1. I read The Awakening for the first time back in high school, and I think I felt the same sort of impatience with it that you describe here. The whole thing seemed too slow to me – something about Edna’s choices was beyond me. When I reread it last year, the novel read so differently. I’m not sure if it was simply being older, living at the moment in a society where women’s options are much more limited than I’m used to them being, or reading the book with a clearer picture of what was happening, but that sense of how claustrophobic and limited Edna’s life was was much clearer the second time round. Chopin’s writing style may not be my favorite, still, but I’m glad I reread this.

    1. I really don’t think The Awakening is a good book for high school. I think I’ll reread it eventually, and I get the feeling it’s the sort of book that’s influenced by your own experiences. It’s too bad it gets “ruined” for so many kids because they have to read it so young.

  2. This is definitely one of my favorite novels. I went into it knowing nothing, and read it at a time when I was just figuring out how to be a stay at home mom of three boys under the age of six. I was confused and miserable and felt trapped, just like she did, and was in tears the entire novel. I related to it so much. Later on, I reread it, and didn’t feel the impact as much because I wasn’t in the same place in my life, so I wonder if this is one that timing and experience really matters for.

    1. I can see how personal experience would affect how you read this one. I could find echoes of Edna’s feelings in my own life, but only faintly, though I can imagine a time when I will relate to her more strongly. I think it’s too bad the book gets forced on kids in high school, who most likely don’t have the experience to make the novel really mean something to them.

  3. I read this many years ago, and can’t say that it stuck with me all that much. I do remember being entertained by it, and thinking that it was really well written, but I think I read it back in the time before I was really sitting down to make notes of what I read, and I was also inhaling books as well, so it doesn’t stick out to me. I think it sounds like it’s time for a reread!

    1. It’s short and pretty quick, compared to some of the novels out there, so I’m guessing it’s one I’ll revisit as well!

  4. I need to read this again. My recollection of it was that I wasn’t wild about it, but I was seventeen when I read it the first time. I can imagine there are things I would appreciate more now.

  5. I read this in college and loved it. I reread it a year or so ago (over 15 years later) and felt Edna’s feelings more deeply. Or maybe that’s just because I knew the ending. I loved the book both times. Give it a reread in a few years and see what you think.

  6. It wasn’t my favorite either. However, I appreciated Edna’s point of view much more than when it was assigned reading in 10th grade. I’m glad I reread it- I feel like I gave it more of a fair chance then when I was being forced to read it. However, it’s still not one of my faves. I’m glad we read it together!

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