Is it strange to become more interested in writers when you find out more about their lives and the reception and commentary on their works? The answer for me is obviously no, it’s not strange at all, as my literary studies generally err on the biographical side. In reading The Awakening I was put in an interesting, but unfamiliar position, as I had a simple Dover text and no access to any other materials, no internet handy. I read the book eagerly and really enjoyed it, but it seemed to be such a strong, basic yet radical, standard classic text, with all sorts of layers that I couldn’t work out off the top of my head, that I didn’t feel quite right digging in and going through the work of explaining things, summarizing, and chattering on. I was more interested in finding out what other, smarter, reliable and hard-working critics had to say, to get into the story behind it, into backgrounds, sources and influences, to get up to speed and then work my way towards finding an intriguing niche.
So I’m making some progress on that front, though I have a ways to go yet. Right now I’m less interested in critical interpretations of the text than I am in its reception, and in trying to get a better sense of how it was redicovered, as it were. There’s apparently a new scholarly book on just this subject, which I want to find at the library. I’m very familiar with the Jewett and Schreiner shelves at my local major research library, not to mention the walls of books on Hawthorne, James (close to Jewett), etc., and Dickens, which I visited most recently and where I found surprisingly little material on A Christmas Carol. It occurs to me that I haven’t spent enough time in the Chekhov section (it’s a bit out of the way), and I could know Cather’s corner better. I know the small, static Leslie Stephen half-shelf, but I haven’t been by the always-growing Virginia Woolf wall in recent memory.
One thing I’ve discovered about Chopin is that are apparently a number of stories worth reading. And I’m curious to see, aside from criticism at the library, what the basic Borders or Barnes and Noble stock of Chopin material looks like. Hopping up to my own shelves, I find more chopin right here in the valuable anthology “The Story and Its Writer,” a book one of my kids used for a class. One thing that intrigued me, and the prompt for this post in fact, was the influence of Maupassant on Chopin, perhaps similar in ways to the important influence Maupassant had on Chekhov. In that light, perhaps Chopin and The Awakening seem closer to Chekhov and The Lady with the Dog, than to Jewett and Country of the Pointed Firs. I believe I saw somewhere recently that Jewett was repulsed by The Awakening, which isn’t surprising. So perhaps the Maupassant-Chekhov-Chopin connection will turn into my niche. At any rate, let this serve as a brief note to say that I like what I’ve seen so far from Kate Chopin, and want to go through my accustomed process and do more–not too much of course, nothing exhaustive, no commercial farming, but I don’t mind a bit of literary spade work and puttering around a new section of the garden, especially just after the turn of the year.