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Sep
2016
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A painting by Robert Henri of a woman in a hat next to the ocean which was used as cover work for the novel.

The Awakening; Kate Chopin and American Modernity

Cloutierville, Louisiana- In 1899 Kate Chopin published her novella The Awakening, the tragic tale of a heroine restrained by societal conceptions of the female role. The novel encapsulates many themes and formal choices associated with the modernist literature period, such as the oppression of women, humanism, obscurity and a new narrative form.

Photo of The Awakening's author Kate Chopin. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

Photo of The Awakening’s author Kate Chopin. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

Several critics (Moss, DeKoven, Vlaspolos) have drawn connections between the various facets of modernist form Chopin’s work shares with Virginia Woolf. DeKoven notes in particular that the “decentered subjectivity, rupture of linearity in plot and temporal structure… stylistic indeterminacy, multiplicity, [and] fragmentation” of Chopin’s work is very similar to that of Virginia Woolf (20). Some critics describe The Awakening as a depiction of 19th century feminism, which seeks to identify the two central roles of women as Mother and Property in 19th century society and encourage women to question this system and pursue other aspirations (Gray, 54). Modern day feminists still herald

The Awakening as a paramount piece of literature in the foundations of feminism and is still referenced today in conversations surrounding early feminist discourse.

Kate Chopin House

The house Chopin lived at in Cloutierville, LA, which served as the inspiration for the setting of The Awakening

While Chopin’s work would grow to critical acclaim in the coming century, her work was never canonized in her life time and as such she would never have had the opportunity to impact Virginia Woolf, who can be seen as a more popular, British contemporary of the early American modernist. It is clear that Chopin was a crucial part of the exploration and reformation of literature during the American Modernist movement.

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