Nature and the Expression of the Feminine

bathers-two-nudes-in-an-exotic-landscape-1905Kate Chopin, the American female writer during the last 19th Century, presents a a very suggesting atmosphere in her great novel The Awakening. Indeed, the first part of the novel is settled in Grand Island, a place which seems to be catch by a mysterious and spiritual environment. The novel is full of symbology: birds, music, dreams, the sea, the moonlight, are some of the elements which appear repeatedly. The dreamlike atmosphere is present most of the time in Grand Island, and with it, the references to “sleeping” and “awakening”, as metaphors for the acquisition of self-consciousness and the birth of a new self, remind psychoanalysis, especially, The Interpretation of Dreams. 

Women have a prominent place in the story establishing between them peculiar relations. The friendship between Edna and Mademoiselle Reisz, for example, is close to be that of master and disciple. Mdm. Reisz is an old and unconventional woman, she’s gifted with the piano, and knows the secrets of Edna’s heart. She seems to light up Edna’s new way to arrive at her new self, and she also advises her of the difficulty of the task:  “The artist must possess the courageous soul that dares and defies.” But Edna is not just an artist is a woman who wants to live like an artist and to get her own income. In contrast to Adèle Ratignolle, who is a wonderful wife and a charming mother, Edna represents the New Woman of the turn of the century. Her position is thus between Mdm. Reisz, a pioneer, and Adèle, a traditional woman. Neither the former nor the latter lack in attractiveness, and in fact, Edna is moving around these two figures. Mdm. Reisz possesses independence while Adèle is beautiful and fertile.

It could be interesting to analyse the relation between the symbology and the female characters of the novel. The moon has been traditionally linked to the feminine,the sea, as Langer affirms, is a powerful expression of life which can be associated to female fertility (it is interesting to see how it appears in several novels with strong connections with women), music and dreams are both mysterious and they suggest an intuitive mode of knowledge. The list could go on.

“The Awakening”, a feminine metaphor

woman-in-a-mirror-theo-van-rysselbergheThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) has been seen as a novel of adultery, as for example, Madame Bovary, but I don’t really think that the main problem of Edna- The Awakening‘s main character- is a matter of love. Edna is much more than a problem of  satisfactory marriage, she incarnates the history of women in the Western society. Edna is introduced to the reader reflecting a problem of identity, her unhappy marriage is just a parcel of such problem. Edna doesn’t know neither who she is nor where’s her place in the world. At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Edna as a wife concerned  about her husband, trying to do her best to get a peaceful home. However, something is awoke within herself while listening a piano concert; here music plays a significant role. I’m currently working on this topic in my research, that’s the influence of music in the souls, and especially in the novel of adultery. By now, I’ll go on  with the idea that music, and later, her relation with Robert, make her conscious of herself, of her inward. I’d say the sea plays a role here as well, but that’s another topic for another moment. Thus, adultery is just a tool through which she becomes aware of her whole life, and it’s from this point she decides to change. The next step is painting, so art. She loves painting but she had never before taken it seriously. Painting is the first expression of her awareness. I find it a very interesting point; she becomes more and more herself through her artistic expression, I think that’s another point to analyse: how art is related to self-consciousness. Finally, she becomes independent, she earns her own money and buys an apartment. At this point, her love relations aren’t so important, that’s the reason I think adultery isn’t the main point in the novel. Instead, we can se how Edna acquires consciousness of herself as a woman in society (the title itself refers to an awakening) which corresponds to the history of the independence of women. I guess the important point in such a history isn’t sex or money but consciousness, and through it, inner-freedom.

Creative Femininity

Women and art create a new topic in Modernist Literature. Two good examples of it are Viriginia Woolf and Kate Chopin, both belonging to the first part of the 20th C. Together with the born of the New Woman appears the female artist as a key figure of the first feminism. Two works I’d like to turn to are To the Lighthouse (London, 1927) by Woolf and The Awakening (New Orleans, 1899) by Chopin. What these short novels share is the character of the female artist. In the first case, a not-married painter and, in the second case, a not-married musician and Edna, the main character who finds herself divided between marriage and painting. It’s interesting to see how there’s a dilemma between family duties and art which, actually, remains unresolved in both novels, especially in The Awakening where Edna incarnates the opposition. There’s no chance: either art or marriage. However, the interesting point is that of motherhood. It seems to be incarnated in both spheres; the creation of life could be substitute for that of art. In fact, these artists who in both novels remain single don’t live their condition as impoverish, while Edna experiments the two facts as contradictory. The problem of Edna, however, doesn’t consist just in the fact of being mother and artist, it’s also an expression of being trapped in a society of established roles. In such a case, we’re witnessing a difficult born: the woman of the 20th C. The tow facts aren’t in themselves contradictory but they were made so.