Lenah in Infinite Days may detest Kate Chopin’s classic, The Awakening, but thousands revere it as one of the first modern pieces of feminist literature. It would be easy to say Lenah thinks the book is “dreadful” simply because Rebecca Maizel, the author, dislikes it — and that may be true — but if we look to the plots of the two books, there’s more than meets the eye.
First published in 1899, it’s set in New Orleans and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. The main character is Edna Pontellier, a young wife and mother, who finds herself increasingly unhappy with her life. Despite a comfortable lifestyle, decent husband and young children, she can’t find any satisfaction.
Going against all societal norms, she takes a lover, Robert Lebrun, and begins to isolate herself. Her children are sent away, her husband is out of town on business. She tries to find solace in artistic endeavors, but nothing does the trick. Today, we would say she’s depressed.
I won’t give away the ending, but it’s not happy.
Chopin (1850–1904) spent her early years in St. Louis, living a literary life. After marrying Oscar Chopin, they moved to his native Louisiana. Together they had six children, but Oscar contracted malaria and died in 1882, leaving Kate a widow at age 32. She never remarried, but she did move back to St. Louis.
After her husband’s death, she published many short stories and was well-respected. That is, until she published The Awakening. For the most part, her contemporaries condemned it as “trite,” “sordid,” and “vulgar.” It was banned in some instances, single-handedly ending her writing career. It wasn’t until the 1950s that academics rediscovered her work and began to examine it more closely.
It’s now viewed as a ground-breaking work, ahead of its time in themes of female dissatisfaction and passion.
Why Lenah might hate it:
- Like it or not, she identifies with it: She says, “I’m not a girl who likes to be controlled. The main character, Edna Pontellier, was controlled her whole life. That’s the book. The main character acts out against the societal restrictions against her. She feels trapped.” (pp. 84-85).
- In many ways, she can’t identify with it: As a vampire, Lenah has pretty much done what she wants when she wants, to whomever she wants. The only thing controlling her is her need for blood. She has no clue what it’s like to be trapped in a passionless marriage, to bear and raise children, to conform to a relatively strict society. Her entire existence has been about following her passions. No wonder she has no sympathy for Edna Pontellier — she never had to abide by human standards.
- Her life is changing, and it’s scary: She now has to abide by human laws and conventions. While much of this is great, some of it … not so much. For one thing, she’s not completely free; her former coven is hunting her down with the sole purpose of destroying her for her betrayal. And she is rapidly losing her superhuman abilities, leaving her vulnerable for the first time in centuries. She must feel pain, loss and fear. Welcome to humanity, Lenah.
For the comments: Have you read The Awakening? I think it’s mostly read in college, along with her short story, “Desiree’s Baby.” What’s your opinion? Why do you think Maizel chose this specific book to include in Infinite Days?