20 greatest works of fiction about New Orleans

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The Awakening (Cover image via Dover)

9. The Awakening

Chances are good that, if you have attended a high school English literature class, you have crossed paths with The Awakening. While it was published in 1899, this novel remains vital and relevant, with a heavy dose of New Orleans culture throughout.

Written by Kate Chopin, The Awakening was one of the first novels to really examine what it was like to be a woman in the restrictive society of 19th century Louisiana. Chopin’s protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is the wife of well-off businessman Leonce Pontellier.

Though she lives an outwardly comfortable life, Edna is unsettled. Her friend, Adele, seems to take joy in her roles as wife and mother, but her constant reminding does not help Edna. The seemingly endless cycles appear to be crushing her spirit.

Social pressure

In fact, when the Pontellier family returns from their vacation to bustling New Orleans, Edna’s spirits are so low that Leonce starts to talk to a doctor. If his wife is no longer interested in what he believes are the natural and obligatory roles of motherhood, could she be going insane?

Thankfully, the doctor essentially tells Leonce to lay off and give his wife some space. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for Edna. She starts an affair with another man, Robert Lebrun. The love between the two is depicted without any real judgment, a feat that caused serious debate in Chopin’s time.

Edna also makes a connection with Mademoiselle Reisz, a piano player who has decided to live by her own rules, rather than those imposed by society. With Reisz and Robert pushing her to break away on one side, and Adele and Leonce urging her to conform on the other, Edna finds herself in the middle of an emotional storm. Alas, even the seemingly freewheeling world of New Orleans isn’t truly like that for a woman such as Edna.