Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book 1 for the Fill in the Gaps project - DONE!

The Awakening is a classic. A wealthy Southern woman, entrapped in wealthy Southern Victorian conventions, decides to start living for herself and doing what she wants to do instead of what her husband wants her to do or what is expected by society. Not such a shocker these days, but wealthy Southern Victorian ladies just did not do such things. Being a proper feminist, the idea of this book was really quite appealing to me.

Unfortunately, I found the heroine to be utterly inconsiderate and self-involved. I mean, it's one thing to want to break free and build your own life; it's quite another to treat a husband who adores you with indifference and your kids who are sweet and adorable like utter crap. And then to kill yourself in the end because life is so boring if you can't have the man you want because he's too decent to want to cuckold your husband.

I still applaud the general sentiment behind the book, even though I wasn't crazy about the woman. In addition, it made me think about how it might still apply in modern times. I mean, we are clearly way more liberal in our thinking about who can marry whom and about marrying for love. But I still think in some wealthy, high-society circles, there is a lot of pressure to "marry well" and to mate with someone "appropriate" - love be damned. Not having come from any money whatsoever myself, I can't swear to that, but I certainly think that if you're a Kennedy, it will be severely frowned upon for you to marry a regular person.

I'm not sorry I read the book. And I certainly was not bored while reading it. But I won't read it again, and I did not at all like the main character. So take that for what it's worth.


  1. I think everyone who reads this book sees something different. I didn't see her husband as a man who adored her, but rather as a man at best indifferent, at worse, manipulative. Because she was in a class that didn't take care of their own children, she didn't have any real connection with them. Life was made unbearable by her depression. A few years ago, when I read this the first time, I was a mother with three kids ages 2-5. I was a stay at home mom for the first time. My kids were all home all day long, and my job was 24/7. I never got out. I never culd do anything for myself. I began to spiral downard, and reading this book really affected me. I could feel what that woman felt, and I understood only too well that quote at the end about how her children rose up as antagonists, and why she was willing to give up her life but not her soul for them. I had the same stirrings of rebellion in me.

    A year ago, I reread it. My kids were older (4-7) and all in school at least half-time. I'd joined book clubs and writing groups and made sure I got out of the house at least 4 times a week for a couple hours. I had some time to myself during the day. Things were better for me, and I'd survived the worst years of staying home with my kids. I could no longer connect with Edna so much. I didn't feel her depression and spiritual rebellion so powerfully. My cousin read it at the same time as me, and felt a lot the way you explain in your post. I think this is one that really needs to strike you in a certain way in order to NOT see her as selfish. Because I read it the first time when I did, this is one of my favorite books ever.

    ps - I'm part of the Fill in the Gaps blog, which is how I came across your review.

  2. Hi, Jen. I have never been able to warm up to The Awakening, either. I can appreciate it, and Edna, on a sort of intellectual level--the same way I can relate to Nora from A Doll's House. But I can't feel any real empathy for her. Possibly her life experience is SO removed from mine that I can't connect. But I find it hard to admire suicide as a way out. I can appreciate women feeling alienated from their children; I think a lot of women, especially in that era, had children for no other reason that that was what was expected, and then found that the tremendous responsibility of subverting their lives to the needs of those children was stifling. But suicide? It always strikes me as cowardice. Interestingly, students tend to really like this book; at least, that's what I've found the few times I've taught it. Perhaps they are more sympatico with rebellion in general.