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JEAN WITHEROW Louisiana State University “Abysses of Solitude”: Chopin’s Intertextuality with Flaubert WELL-DOCUMENTED SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES IN PLOT AND MINOR details in Madame Bovary (1856) and The Awakening (1899) reflect differences in the most basic guiding visions of Gustave Flaubert and Kate Chopin, as manifest in their adherence to characteristics of Realism and Naturalism, including related language use and narrative point of view. Implications of Chopin’s intentional adoption of a more romantic Naturalism, as it opposes Flaubert’s strict objective Realism and deterministic Naturalism, clarify her contribution to the evolution toward a softening of Naturalism in the twentieth century. In becoming a mature artist, Kate Chopin was influenced by literary masters on both sides of the Atlantic. During her brief writing career (1889 to 1899), she responded deliberately to American writers such as Howells and Garland, and French writers such as Maupassant and Flaubert (Toth 118, 168, 123, 217). Unfortunately, The Awakening, probably a reaction to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, sparked controversy that ended her career and placed her in virtual obscurity until she was rediscovered by critics including Daniel Rankin (1932) and Cyrille Arnavon in France (1953), studied later by Larzer Ziff (1966), and boosted to canonical status by Per Seyersted (1969). Ziff notes the influence of French culture on Chopin’s writing, explaining that “The community about which she wrote was. . . . far more French than American, and Mrs. Chopin reproduced this little world with no specific intent to shock or make a point” (297). Besides her own maternal French ancestry, Chopin was a student of the French Realists, having studied their works in the original French, and having translated eight of Maupassant’s short stories (Heath 11). Her deep familiarity with Maupassant is evident in her translations between 1892 and 1898 of “The Mad Stories,” as she entitled them, during which period she also wrote The Awakening (Bonner xii). Thomas Bonner, Jr. notes similarities in “psychological themes and distinct images,” including Chopin’s “sexual realism. . . . ironic denouement and the epistolary technique,” evident in the Maupassant stories and The 88 Jean Witherow Awakening, suggesting that the translations helped Chopin develop her mature style. The stories, he explains, “are more important . . . for what they reveal about her own work than for what they reveal of Maupassant’s” (xii). Richard Fusco’s study of the various complex structures of Maupassant’s stories offers further insight into Chopin’s intimacy with the French masters. Fusco writes an exhaustive study of the various forms she employed in her works, concluding that “the expansive teachings contained in the Maupassant canon clarified her understanding of simple forms and introduced her to more challenging ones. . . . Amid his panorama of forms, she found no literary dogma but a credo” (145). At least in part as a result of her Maupassant translations, Chopin’s reliance on French forms and themes, noted by many critics, is apparent in The Awakening. Early French critic Cyrille Arnavon pointed out that much French fiction around 1900 depicted a theme of “suicide” (185), the title of one of the translated Maupassant stories. Suicide in French literature, Arnavon explains, was “the ultimate escape, generally as a result of idleness and disenchantment” (185). Calling The Awakening an “American Bovary” (181), Arnavon concluded that The Awakening was “modelled upon Flaubert’s novel” (188). Chopin’s familiarity with that novel in the original French, as well as similarities in theme, suggest Chopin’s conscious intertextuality with Flaubert. While critics tend to agree that, “well acquainted with the classics,” Chopin certainly read Madame Bovary in the original French (Seyersted 86), The Awakening displays naturalistic elements informed by a vision different from Flaubert’s. In her comparison of the novels, Susan Rosowski points out that whereas Flaubert “Maintains ironic distance” from Emma, Chopin “focuses strictly upon changes of consciousness” within Edna (316). Bernard Paris explains that while Flaubert “ridicules Emma’s romanticism” (198), “Edna’s is not a story of romantic folly but of a woman’s awakening” (215). Lawrence Thornton adds to the discussion that, unlike Flaubert, who exposes “the dry-rot of romanticism,” Chopin gives her protagonist “at least a partial understanding of the lie that animates her vision” (51). Thornton concludes that “Chopin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 87-113
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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