Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening is a daring exploration of the suffering of depression by women when such a diagnosis was just developing. Before the 19th century, from antiquity into modern times, the common term to define a depressive disorder was melancholia (Boer and Kasper 3-4). This broad term encompassed a number of psychological disorders and, according to Gerit Glas, the debate over “mood disorders” lasted well into the 20th Century (5,16). Through the character of Edna Pontellier, the novel contains several typical symptoms of the disorder as we recognize it today: sadness or unhappiness, crying spells for no apparent reason, thoughts of death, restlessness, frustration, excessive sleeping or insomnia, slowed thinking and a loss of interest in normal activities (Mayo Clinic).
One of the most common pieces of advice to an author is to write what you know. Chopin may not have directly experienced the dilemma’s experienced by her character Edna , but the author’s past suggests that she had a great deal of insight into the issues contained within the text. Nancy A. Walker discusses these points in her introduction to the novel (3-21). Chopin’s environment in childhood as well as adulthood bred a woman who was ahead of her time. Her mother “told her stories that emphasized the role of strong women in her maternal ancestry” and made sure her daughter was well educated (3). Much like her character Edna, Kate was not in love with the upper middle class society she was part of, nor the limitations it provided young women (5, 35). Also like her character Edna, she married a man that would provide a sensible match and happened to be a mercantile businessman (5, 39-40). Kate lived in New Orleans for several years and experienced greater freedom than most women of her time (7, 11, 23, 87). In her thirties, she was known to be attached to a noted womanizer (11, 42, 119). Walker then comes out and directly states that much of what she experienced ended up in her fiction (7). With much of what she knew, first or second hand, filling up her work, it is highly likely that knowledge of depression (then Melancholia) was within her repertoire.
Continue reading the review at: Melancholia and the Infinite Sadness: Chopin’s Daring Revelation of Depression in The Awakening
 Melancholia, the build up of black bile in the system, which gives the sufferer a sense of despondency or mania. Glas, Gerit, “A Conceptual History of Anxiety and Depression,” in Handbook of Depression and Anxiety, , ed. den Boer, Johan A., Kasper, Siegfried, Sitsen, J.M.A., (New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.: 2003)
 Melancholia and the Infinite Sadness is a word play on the Smashing Pumpkins 1995 recording “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, oddly enough a piano melody. Corgan, Billy, Byrne, Mike, Fiorentino, Nicole, Schroeder, Jeff, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Virgin Records US, October 24, 1995, compact disc.
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