University of Toronto
Department of English

ENG359Y: American Literature, 1880-1960 (L0101)

Instructor: M. Cuddy-Keane

Early Reception History: Kate Chopin

And so, because we admire Kate Chopin's other work immensely and delight in her evergrowing fame and are proud that she is "one-of-us St. Louisans," one dislikes to acknowledge a wish that she had not written her novel. . . .
One would fain beg the gods, in pure cowardice, for sleep unending rather than to know what an ugly, cruel, loathsome monster Passion can be when, like a tiger, it slowly stretches its graceful length and yawns and finally awakens. . . .
There is no fault to find with the telling of the story, there are no blemishes in its art, but it leaves one sick of human nature and so one feels--cui bono! [what is the use?]

Frances Porcher, "Kate Chopin's Novel, The Mirror 9 (4 May, 1899): 6.

 

It is not a healthy book; if it points any particular moral or teaches any lesson, the fact is not apparent. But there is no denying the fact that it deals with existent conditions, and without attempting a solution, handles a problem that obtrudes itself only too frequently in the social life of people with whom the question of food and clothing is not the all absorbing one.

"Notes from Bookland," St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, 13 May, 1899.

 

There may be many opinions touching other aspects of Mrs. Chopin's novel "The Awakening," but all must concede its flawless art. The delicacy of touch of rare skill in construction, the subtle understanding of motive, the searching vision into the recesses of the heart. In delicious English, quick with life, never a word too much, simple and pure, the story proceeds with classic severity through a labyrinth of doubt and temptation and dumb despair.
"The Awakening" is not for the young person, not because the young person would be harmed by reading it, but because the young person wouldn't understand it, and everybody know that the young person's understanding should be scrupulously respected. It is for seasoned souls, for those who have lived, who have ripened under the gracious or ungracious sun of experience and learned that realities do not show themselves on the outside of things where they can be seen and heard, weighted, measure, and valued like the sugar of commerce, but treasured within the heart, hidden away, never to be known perhaps save when exposed by temptation or called out by occasions of great pith and moment. No, the book is not for the young person, nor, indeed, for the old person who has no relish for unpleasant truths.
It is sad and mad and bad, but it is all consummate art.

C. L. Deyo, "The Newest Books," St Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 May, 1899.

 

The worst of such stories is that they will fall into the hands of youth, leading them to dwell on things that only matured persons can understand, and promoting unholy imaginations and unclean desires.

"Books of the Week," Providence Sunday Journal, 4 June, 1899.

 

By the way, "The Awakening" does not strike one as a very happy title for the story Mrs. Chopin tells. . . . This unhappy Edna's awakening seems to have been confined entirely to the senses, while reason, judgment, and all the high faculties and perceptions, whose office it is to weigh and criticise, impulse and govern conduct, fell into slumber deep as that of the seven sleepers. . . . In a civilized society the right of the individual to indulge all his caprices is, and must be, subject to many restrictive clauses . . . . It is not altogether clear that this is the doctrine Mrs. Chopin intends to teach, but neither is it clear that it is not. Certainly there is throughout the story an undercurrent of sympathy for Edna and nowhere a single note of censure of her totally unjustifiable conduct.

"New Publications," New Orleans Times-Democrat, 18 June, 1899.

 

It is rather difficult to decide whether Mrs. Kate Chopin, the author of "The Awakening," tried in that novel merely to make an intimate, analytical study of the characters of a selfish, capricious woman, or whether she wanted to preach the doctrine of the right of the individual to have what he wants, not matter whether or not it maybe good for him.

"Fresh Literature," Los Angeles Sunday Times, 25 June, 1899.

 

[Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary] belong to a class, not large, but forever clamouring in our ears, that demands more romance out of life than God put into it. . . . The unfortunate failure of their disease is that it attacks only women of brains, at least of rudimentary brains, but whose development is one-sided; women of strong and fine intuitions, but without the faculty of observation, comparison, reasoning about things. . . . These people really expect the passion of love to fill and gratify every need of life, whereas nature only intended that it should meet one of many demands. They insist upon making it stand for all the emotional pleasure of life and art; expecting an individual and self-limited passion to yield infinite variety, pleasure, and distraction, to contribute to their lives what the arts and the pleasurable exercise of the intellect give to less limited and less intense idealist.

Willa Cather ("Sibert), "Books and Magazines," Pittsburgh Leader, 8 July, 1899.