The Reading Group met recently to discuss Kate Chopin’s landmark feminist classic The Awakening. This short American novel, published in 1899, caused considerable controversy with its depiction of a female character rebelling against the constraints of a patriarchal society in the southern United States. The criticism effectively ended the career of its author and she died in 1904, having never published anything of note in the intervening years.

Discussion in the group centred on the feeling that the style of the novel, and its initial pace, made for a rather slow start but as it progresses, reader engagement grows. The predicament of Edna Pontellier, the main character, attracts our sympathy and we identify with her struggle. There was agreement that Edna was justified in the course of action she followed, although this view was tempered by consideration of Edna’s somewhat privileged position in society, which allowed for the possibility of rebellion. Kate Chopin’s clever metaphorical use of the ocean and swimming was felt to be a particularly effective device, and the consensus of the group was that the ending of the novel was both shocking and memorable.

The next novel for consideration will be Anne Enright’s modern Irish story of remorse and regret The Gathering.