March is Women's History Month. We will read two classics by Amercan women authors: My Antonia by Willa Cather and The Awakening by Kate Chopin.
Amazon Links: My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The story of Antonia Shimerda is told by on of the friends of her childhood, Jim Burden, an orphaned boy from Virginia. Though he leaves the prairie, Jim never forgets the Bohemian girl who so profoundly influenced his life. An immigrant child of immigrant parents, Antonia's girlhood is spent working to help her parents wrest a living from the untamed land. Though in later years she suffers betrayal and desertion, through all the hardships of her life she preserves a valor of spirit that no hardship can daunt or break. When Jim Burden sees her again after many years he finds her "a rich mine of life", and "a figure who has turned adversity into a particular kind of triumph in the true spirit of the pioneer".
First published in 1918, and set in Nebraska in the late 19th century, this tale of the spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family planning to farm on the untamed land ("not a country at all but the material out of which countries are made") comes to us through the romantic eyes of Jim Burden. He is, at the time of their meeting, newly orphaned and arriving at his grandparents' neighboring farm on the same night her family strikes out to make good in their new country. Ántonia, who, even as a grown woman somewhat downtrodden by circumstance and hard work, "had not lost the fire of life," lies at the center of almost every human condition that Cather's novel effortlessly untangles. She represents immigrant struggles with a foreign land and tongue, the restraints on women of the time (with which Cather was very much concerned), the more general desires for love, family, and companionship, and the great capacity for forbearance that marked the earliest settlers on the frontier.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, The Awakening has been hailed as an early vision of woman's emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman's abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threatened to consume her.
The Pontellier family are spending a hot, lazy holiday on the Gulf of Mexico. No one expects that Edna Pontellier should be preoccupied with anything more than her husband and children. When an illicit summer romance awakens new ideas and longings in Edna, she can barely understand herself, and cannot hope for aid or acceptance in the stifling attitudes of Louisiana society. Now considered a classic, this tale of liberation caused a scandal when it was first published and was dismissed as "vulgar," "unhealthy," and "morbid" by other contemporary reviewers, effectively ending Chopin's career.
Originally entitled "A Solitary Soul", this portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Here, a woman in search of self-discovery turns away from convention and society, and toward the primal, irresistibly attracted to nature and the senses. The Awakening has been praised by Edmund Wilson as "beautifully written" and Willa Cather described its style as "exquisite, sensitive and iridescent."
Free Online Versions (Project Gutenberg):