The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Edna Pontellier is a 29-year-old mother of two in late nineteenth century Louisiana. As befits a woman in her station, she has maids to clean, cooks to prepare her food, and a nanny to care for her young ones. As Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening (published 1889) begins, she is spending her summer vacation at a lake, where she begins to see her husband’s treatment of her, her pointless “proper” behavior, and especially her own sexual identity in a new light. For the first time, she recognizes herself as more than the superficial image her era dictates her to be. As she develops a friendship with a young man, Robert, Edna becomes awakened to her own limitless possibilities for self-determination.

At once both a feminist tale and a sexual awakening story, The Awakening delves into the complex emotions of a woman searching for herself. Edna searches for ever-elusive happiness, and when society fails to meet her in her newly discovered self, she abandons the social mores and traditions for her self. Although The Awakening is short, I found it to be an intriguing look into society of the late nineteenth century American middle class, as well as a story that may unfortunately be all too resonant to women today.Continue Reading

Wise Women of the Dreamtime: Aboriginal Tales of the Ancestral Power edited by Joanna Lambert

Wise Women of the Dreamtime: Aboriginal Tales of the Ancestral Power (Inner Traditions International, 1993) is a fascinating collection of tales from Australian Aboriginal woman as dictated to a Western woman in the late 1800s. Editor Joanna Lambert expands upon these tales by providing commentary and discussion after each tale, focusing on the various folkloric traditions around the globe and emphasizing both the uniqueness of the Aboriginal tales and the similarities the Aboriginal folklore has with other cultures. Given the thousands of years in which Aboriginal traditions flourished essentially unaltered, I found it fascinating to read the folklore.

Kate Langloh Parker was fascinated by the Aboriginal traditions as a child, and as an adult, she collected the stories the women told her. Tragically, in her day, such folkloric anthropological research was not appreciated in Australia. In the past century, Aboriginal traditions have been overshadowed by the Western traditions entering into the territory and the 60,000 year old culture is losing it’s solidarity.

Ms Lambert’s volume reintroduces Ms Parker’s anthology of collected stories with sensitivity into a world that may be better equipped to appreciate the culture of the Aborigines. Although I am not an anthropologist, I greatly enjoyed Ms Lambert’s commentary. The stories of Dreamtime are a fascinating look at an ancient culture and religious tradition. I only wished Ms Lambert and Ms Parker had more folklore collected to share with me!

It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst

In honor of my 31st birthday on Sunday, I thought I’d find a Persephone book with a title that made me laugh: It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty and Other Tragedies of Married Life by Judith Viorst. Being in the USA, however, I only found the non-Persephone edition, the original 1968 publication of Viorst’s slim volume of poetry. Apparently, the Persephone reissue also includes another 50 pages or so of additional poems.

At any rate, I was not blown away by Viorst’s poetry; they left me feeling rather meh. With such a clever title, I had hoped I could relate to the poems of finding a place in a new relationship and so forth. As a married stay-at-home mom in 2012, though, I found the poetry dated. Viorst’s poems dealt with a newly married woman’s struggle to feel like herself in a new role as wife (as in the poem “The Honeymoon is Over”) and other poems focus on the suburbanite mother’s frustrations at being a domestic worker in the home. For example, in “The Other Woman,” the narrator observes that ” The other woman/ never smells like Ajax or Spaghetti-O.”

I just could not relate. This may be because my marriage relationship is balanced and I find personal satisfaction in my role as a mother in a suburban community. I don’t feel threatened by the “working women” my husband may associate with. And although my marital role is to take care of my child and clean the house, I don’t smell like “Ajax or Spaghetti-O” nor do I discuss brand names of detergents with my friends as a poem indicates. Seriously, does anyone do that?

Maybe that is the point. By reading Viorst’s 1960s perspective of her stifled marriage, I can see how far we’ve come? Okay, I admit it, I feel I’m reaching here, trying to figure out why this is classic. I know that Persephone Books reissues neglected feminist works (usually by women) from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Maybe recognizing that some women don’t find satisfaction in their domestic duties, especially in the changing 1960s, is an important feminist observation.

Personally, I like being a stay-at-home mom. I find satisfaction from it. My husband and I don’t bicker (and I don’t recall ever doing so) as the characters in “The Honeymoon is Over” do. And I certainly don’t find myself constantly mopping the house as many poems mention. I guess I’ve never been “hip” and I don’t care. Add to my frustrations with Viorst’s volume the fact that each poem seems wordy (I’m a fan of careful worded poetry, spare and succinct), and I must say that this poetry collection simply was not for me.

Maybe you’ll enjoy it more. Also, please note that the Persephone edition has another 50 pages of poetry over this one; maybe I would have enjoyed those additional poems more. As it was, this was one Persephone I’m certainly glad I didn’t spend money on.

Birth Day by Mark Sloan

Awwwww … newborn babies! I am a bit excited by the image of an innocent, soft, wrinkly newborn baby these days, for obvious reasons. Less than eight more weeks until a newborn daughter joins my family!

I found Birth Day by Mark Sloan (published 2009) one day when I was browsing the shelves looking for something about pregnancy or babies, and it was just perfect! Dr. Sloan is a pediatrician, regularly on rotation at the hospital to care for the newborns who may need a little assistance getting started in the world. But Birth Day is far more than a memoir of doctoring: it’s a reflection on his own experiences as a husband to a laboring woman, a personal account of his own experiences as a man becoming a father for the first and then second time, and a researched history of childbirth practices throughout history. The subtitle is “a pediatrician explores the science, the history and the wonder of childbirth” and that is an apt description. All those aspects are central to the book, and Dr. Sloan’s casual voice and personal presence makes it a pleasant read.

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