|About this Recording
NA210812 - CHOPIN, K.: Awakening (The) (Abridged)
The ‘discovery’ of The Awakening dates roughly from the 1940’s, since then it has been enthusiastically studied by numerous American academics, who have rightly found in it extraordinary qualities: it is beautifully written and constructed, highly sensitive and perceptive in its psychology, and
pioneering in its feminist agenda.
The Awakening was Chopin’s last novel: published in 1899, it prompted
a national scandal and (apparently) discouraged its author from further attempts at longer fiction. Only a few years before, Thomas Hardy in England had been similarly discouraged by the reception of Jude the Obscure, but one is entitled in both cases to wonder whether in fact both writers had reached a defining moment with their novels: both have something of a ‘manifesto’ quality, offering defiantly radical and provocative attacks on social norms, attacks which were inevitably going to stimulate an outraged response.
Chopin’s target is the conventional bourgeois idea of woman’s role within marriage, where decorative subservience to husband and devotion to the maternal role are absolute requirements. What makes the novel remarkable (amongst other things) is the subtlety with which this attack is developed: just as the heroine Edna Pontellier is slow to realize consciously what is happening to her at an instinctive level, so the reader is slow to draw conclusions about any of the characters, all of whom are depicted with sympathetic understanding — even, for instance, the dull but well-meaning husband who can hardly help viewing Edna as a possession and is genuinely baffled by the changes he witnesses in her as the narrative unfolds: thus the feminist theme which Chopin develops is set in a fully and persuasively realized context, from the flawless treatment of character to the finely-realized descriptions of Grand Isle. Nevertheless, much of what Chopin has to say must have been unavoidably shocking in its day, and perhaps even now to more conventional readers — take, for example, the challenge Edna offers to conventional views of motherhood when she says that ‘the children appeared before her like antagonists who had overcome her who had overpowered and sought to drag her into the soul’s slavery for the rest of her days’. Yet she is also passionately fond of her little boys: of such paradoxes and complexity is real life made up, and Chopin expresses this repeatedly in the acuteness of her insight.
Sophisticated, too, is the writer’s handling of image, symbol and structure. The sea is perhaps the image which binds the novel’s themes and narrative together: the story begins and ends at Grand Isle, where the sea’s seductive sensuality comes to represent Edna’s own growing awareness of her sensual self — her ‘liberation’ begins when she learns how to swim and overcomes her previous ‘ungovernable dread’ of the water. Music, too, is important: Mademoiselle Reisz, herself an artist, an ‘outsider’, plays music in which the deepest feelings are articulated at last for Edna — ‘perhaps for the first time her being was tempered to take an impress of the abiding truth’.
The Awakening, then, is a novel which both works supremely well as a love story of poignant intensity and as a powerful corrective to the unthinking oppression of women’s individuality. Edna has been used to living ‘the dual life — that outward existence which conforms the inward life which questions.’ However bleak the ending of the novel may seem, Edna’s triumph has been to break out of the ‘dual life’ and into the freedom of living as her deepest impulses tell her she should.
Kate Chopin, née O’Flaherty was born in 1850 of an Irish father and Creole mother. After her marriage to Oscar Chopin she settled in New Orleans and regularly stayed at Grand Isle, the fashionable resort which features so importantly in The Awakening. Her husband died in 1882 and she was left with six children and debts to repay. She began to write short stories with which she achieved some success, but her major work is undoubtedly The Awakening (1899), the hostile reception of which turned her to writing poetry and essays as well as short stories. She died from a brain hemorrhage in 1904.
Notes by Perry Keenlyside
Liza Ross has appeared on stage in the West End and in repertory across Great Britain, including Wings and The Front Page at the Royal National Theatre. She has made many television appearances including After the War, Poor Little Rich Girl, Two’s Company and The Month of the Doctors. Her film work includes Batman and The Shadowchasers and she has worked extensively as a voice artist.
The music on this cassette is taken from the NAXOS and MARCO POLO catalogs
CHOPIN MUSIC FOR CELLO AND PIANO 8.553159
Idil Biret, piano
GRIEG PIANO MUSIC VOLUME 12 8.553398
Balázs Szokolay, piano
GRIEG PIANO MUSIC VOLUME 2 8.550882
Balázs Szokolay, piano
WIDOR PIANO TRIO 8.223193
Ilona Prunyi, piano/New Budapest Quartet
CHOPIN SCHERZI AND IMPROMPTUS 8.550362
Music programming by Nicolas Soames
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