If there is one thing I like about reading classics, it’s that they don’t go away. They remain in libraries, stores, and the minds of readers for decades precisely because they they embrace powerful themes that never go out of style.
I can’t remember half the books I read last year but I can remember most of the classics I read in high school and college, particularly novels like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and short stories like Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”
Last month I revisited a novel I hadn’t read since the early 1980s, The Awakening by Kate Chopin. As one who is planning a novel based in the South in 1900, I wanted to reacquaint myself with the language, customs, and issues of that particular place and time.
On that score, Chopin’s best-known work did not disappoint. It provided a vivid, memorable portrait of turn-of-the-century Creole Louisiana and reminded me how much times have changed even for the privileged and educated.
The characters are less compelling. Protagonist Edna Pontellier — an unfulfilled, self-absorbed free spirit — does not command much sympathy. Nor do her distant, clueless husband Léonce or a coterie of friends, lovers, and acquaintances. All seem incapable of looking beyond their own selfish, narrow interests.
Even so, I found this novel well worth a second look. Chopin challenges the rigid, often stifling social mores of the time and gives readers a thought-provoking work that will no doubt be read and discussed in yet another hundred years. Rating: 3/5.