- Reviewed by
The first two of these three new books on American women writers are comprehensive studies that span the careers of their subjects. Barbara Ewell's study of Kate Chopin, a volume in the Ungar Literature and Life Series, is a solid study of that writer's career, filling in some important understandings of her less famous work as a context in which to approach the well-known novel and volume of short stories upon which her reputation tends to rest. In addition, as the title of the series suggests that it might, Ewell's study locates Chopin within the culture of her time with a particular focus on its implications for a woman writer trying to deal with gender-inflected cultural issues.
The opening chapter of the book provides an overview of Chopin's life and career. Ewell argues that The Awakening has tended to overshadow her career in our contemporary perspective and that interest in her other work has often involved a sort of "reading back" into those works issues and perspectives from that final novel. She suggests that a fuller sense of Chopin as an artist, as well as a participant in the culture, can be gained by reading the works of each stage for themselves so as to see the evolution of a philosophical and aesthetic perspective that ultimately made The Awakening "the inescapable climax" rather than the sum total of her career.
From this point, Ewell proceeds chronologically through the works of Kate Chopin, devoting a chapter to her first novel, At Fault (1890), the Bayou Folk collection of Louisiana short stories (1894), a second collection of stories, A Night in Acadie (1897), a never-published collection apparently titled A Vocation and a Voice, compiled mostly in 1896 and 1897, The Awakening (1899), and poems and final stories.
Her discussions of the well-known works, Bayou Folk and The Awakening, are solid, and, in the case of Chopin's controversial novel, Ewell does a good job with reviewing the critical disagreement over it. To me her most interesting chapters were those on the little-known first novel, At Fault, which she places in the context of the growing willingness to discuss divorce and in which she sees an early indication of Chopin's choice of a nonjudgmental stance on the complex matters of the human heart, and the chapter on the never published anthology, which she sees as transitional work to the major achievement to follow in The Awakening.
The volume also contains a chronology of the writer's life and a good bibliography. It is a solid contribution to Chopin studies. [End Page 309]
Spanier's book, Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist, is, surprisingly, the first full-length study of Boyle. Boyle's career has now spanned six decades, and she has produced thirteen novels, a substantial body of short fiction and poetry, and considerable nonfiction, from memoirs to essays dealing with a wide range of subjects, aesthetic and political. Perhaps the variety of her work has legislated against an in-depth study of her career, as it sometimes does with artists who work in a variety of genres. However, her deep involvement in the expatriate culture of the Twenties, a phenomenon continually scrutinized, might have been expected to gain her more extensive attention much earlier.
What one learns in this volume is the continuing effort of Kay Boyle, much admired by her literary colleagues in the Twenties, to refine her craft and maintain her involvement in the world of politics. Consequently, we find her involved in a literary revolution in the 1920s in Paris and demonstrating against the war in Vietnam in San Francisco in the 1970s. This volume permits us to know the many steps along the way and always to be aware of...