This poor book languished for years on my shelves. “Oh yeah,” I’d occasionally think, “that’s supposed to be good, an American classic, I should read that some day.” I finally took it off the shelf last month and read the back of the book, which contained this quote:

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.

That is dynamite, knockout stuff that evidently freaked the crap out of her contemporary society. This book was written in 1899.

As you might gather from that passage, the heroine of The Awakening is an unconventional woman. While vacationing with her husband and 2 children on the Gulf Coast one summer, Edna Pontellier learns to swim, falls in love, and slowly realizes that the life she is living is not fulfilling. That realization propels her to make major changes, which have repercussions I won’t spoil.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel as if that passage (and this book) could still be written today and would seem just as relevant as it must have been in 1899 – maybe more so. It feels seditious. It feels dangerous. It feels real and revolutionary.

I don’t know a lot about literary movements so all I can say is that the writing seems old-fashioned but in no way inaccessible to a modern reader. Some of the writing, particularly the end, was breathtakingly poignant.

I feel self-conscious recommending it, as if my recommendation will be interpreted as some kind of anti-family manifesto. But I think my friends who bother to read my blog know I’m not anti-family. I’m just exceedingly sympathetic to the plight of anyone (particularly women) caught in the oppressive expectations of a domination-based hierarchical social system that’s slavishly devoted to narrow gender roles. F that.

Bottom line: very highly recommended.