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Wednesday, September 04, 2002
I have been reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin. It is the story of a young married woman, Edna Pontellier, and her personal rebellion against the social system in late 19th century Louisiana. It is often classified as ‘regional fiction’, in that there are characteristics peculiar to Creole society. However, it is very much in the tradition of ‘The New Woman’, like Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm, another ‘colonial’ tale with widespread appeal.
The story is straightforward enough, but it is given added impact by the use of allusion. As well as the intrusion of meaningful French phrases, there are literary and symbolic references that have a wider resonance. The musical allusions include Zampa (Herold), Poet and Peasant (Suppe) and, Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde. One piece (unnamed), by Frederic Chopin (no relation), is even thought of as ‘Solitude’ by Edna - thus hinting at her Garbo-like wish to be alone.
Edna’s kicking against the pricks can almost be summarised by the musical allusions alone: an immoral pirate is dragged to his death by a marble statue of a woman he had once betrayed (Zampa); the lack of understanding of a man for his ward who will not abandon her lover (Poet & Peasant) and an adulterous love story that ends in death (Tristan & Isolde). The choice of these pieces is unlikely to have been coincidental.
This reminds me that one can learn such a lot about non-literary things by reading good books. My favourite is, perhaps, a lesson in flower arranging to be found in Chapter 15 of Lady Chatterley’s Lover: 'With quiet fingers he threaded a few forget-me-not flowers...'
Oh, read it yourselves...
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