Shakespeare’s Sister

Elaine Showalter

  • Kate Chopin: A Life of the Author of ‘The Awakening’ by Emily Toth
    Century, 528 pp, £20.00, March 1991, ISBN 0 7126 4621 3

If Kate Chopin’s The Awakening had not existed, feminist criticism must have invented it. Here was a lost and indeed fallen 19th-century novel, an orphan of the critical storm, whose rescue in the 1960s captured all the themes of the emerging women’s liberation movement. Chopin’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, awakens from the New Orleans marriage in which she is a pampered chattel, first to her own sexuality, and ultimately to the claims of a selfhood beyond romance, family, even maternity, which impels her to defy ‘the soul’s slavery’ by walking naked into the sea: ‘She felt like some new-born creature, opening its eyes in a familiar world that it had never known ... The water was deep, but she lifted her white body and reached out with a long, sweeping stroke. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.’

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