More than 70 years after its publication, The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1850-1904)--the story of a woman who embraces solitude and abnegates the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood--was rediscovered by the women's movement. After a friend passed a copy to Toth at an antiwar march, she ``found a dissertation topic and lifelong pursuit.'' Not a detail of Chopin's history is considered too trivial for inclusion in this pedestrian dissection. Alongside a chronicle of Chopin's emergence as a short-story writer and novelist are reports on her honeymoon menstrual cramps, her physician's ``deliberately unstylish'' clothes and the career of Frances Porcher, an early reviewer of The Awakening . The literal-minded biographer ( The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation ) tediously compares ``Kate'' with ``Edna'' (Edna Pontellier, the heroine of The Awakening ); her explanations of Chopin's discontent in her marriage and illicit relationship with a married man are flimsy. Toth is also given to portentousness: during the Civil War years, Chopin ``took the law into her own hands'' when she tore down a Union flag that appeared mysteriously on her front porch. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Born in St. Louis in 1850, Chopin eventually moved to Louisiana when she married. Left a widow with six children in 1882, she turned to writing for her livelihood, and she was successful until the publication of her controversial novel The Awakening in 1899. This novel is the story of a woman who relinquishes the traditional female role by having an extramarital affair and seeking independence. In this meticulously researched biography, which began as a dissertation, Toth has uncovered the essence of a woman whose writings veiled the undercurrents of her remarkable life. From the high society of St. Louis to the backwaters of Cloutierville, Louisiana, Chopin was a keen observer and skillful raconteur of the unfolding relationships of men and women. She boldly touched upon topics rarely treated in mainstream literature, and she was ultimately castigated for this. Although the text is weighed down by detail, this is a worthwhile purchase for those interested in a feminist well ahead of her time whose artistic merit has now been fully recognized.-- Mary Ellen Beck, Troy P.L., N.Y.