When Chick Lit Goes Bad: BB Week #2 entry
While Lady Chatterly’s Lover made the Banned list, Kate Chopin‘s The Awakening did not. Both miffed, shocked, and outraged many a reader upon its respective appearance; but only Lady Chatterly’s wanderings provoked the censors to add D.H. Lawrence’s offering on venturing outside the lines of socially acceptable behavior of women of the 19th century. Here’s Lady Cha Cha’s rap sheet according to ALA.org:
Banned by U.S. Customs (1929). Banned in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959). Banned in Canada (1960) until 1962. Dissemination of Lawrence’s novel has been stopped in China (1987) because the book “will corrupt the minds of young people and is also against the Chinese tradition.”
Admittedly, it did have some naughty language, even for today’s standards, and some rather risqué scenes, which explains its appearance in a 1959 obscenity trial. The book went on to fame and fortune, appearing in various forms, even a BBC 1993 mini-series with Sean Bean and Joley Richardson. Bad girls don’t go away, they continue to spice up literary history,
However, a point to consider is that D.H. Lawrence wrote the book from a man’s point of view. Perhaps he should have borrowed the POV Gun from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Lawrence is a writer of merit and his works have lasted the fickleness of time and reader tastes, so I can’t fault him for his chick lit bad girl book. But honestly how can a man know what a woman’s feelings are?
Enter Kate Chopin. She wrote The Awakening with a woman’s point of view in mind. Like they say, “It takes one to know one.” If not familiar with her 1899 novel, here is the micro precis:
Edna Pontellier awakens out of her expected role of wife and mother and goes against the tide of conventionality and is last seen swimming somewhat unhappily ever after into the sunset.
If Chopin had put in the naughtiness, her novel certainly would have made the BB list. Instead it was censored for its open depiction of a female protagonist exploring her wild side. This chafed against expected 1899 norms of decent behavior.
Reactions to her novel ranged from hostile condemnation (“We are well-satisfied when [Edna Pontellier] drowns herself,” “Poison”) to critical lambasting (“It was not necessary for a writer of so great refinement and poetic grace to enter the over-worked field of sex-fiction,” (Chicago Times Herald), to lukewarm chastisement (“”next time I hope that Miss Chopin will devote that flexible, iridescent style of hers to a better cause.”–Willa Cather).
Some compared The Awakening to Flaubert’s 1856 Madame Bovary (another BB list member).
So even though Chopin did not include the naughty stuff, she still received censure for writing about how a woman had become dissatisfied and wanted to flap her wings a bit. That was considered bad form.
The moral is here that Chopin never wrote another novel. In fact, she didn’t publish much after The Awakening‘s disappointing reception. The irony is that Chopin ushered the advent of many a literary foray into a woman’s point of view, including Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Henry James, and Tennessee Williams.
After recently finished Chopin’s novel I am saddened to not have the ability to continue reading more of her work. The critics too well censored her without ever lifting their pen to add her name and novel to their list.
Enjoy a good book this week, even if others deem it bad–it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
- The Awakening by Kate Chopin (mrverdantgreen.typepad.com)
- 11 Books You Should Read If You’re A Woman In Your 20s (thoughtcatalog.com)
- “The Kiss” – Kate Chopin (biblioklept.org)