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When The Awakening was first published in 1899 it was an extraordinarily controversial book. One of the first American novels to concern itself with themes of adultery and divorce, it was widely attacked as 'vulgar' and 'unhealthy'. In her introduction to this collection, Wendy Martin discusses the historical background of the novel and analyses the heroine's evolution from a role of traditional femininity to one of autonomous individualism. The essays that follow explore other central themes of the novel, as well as locating Chopin in the tradition of American women novelists and discussing her status as a pre-modernist writer.