Hailed as a feminist classic in the 1970s, this novel was banned at the time of its publication in 1890s America, where it one reviewer called it "gilded dirt". It breeched several conventions of the time being open about the possibility of adultery and the need for women to be more than the standard "angel at the hearth" figure, in thrall to the requirements of husband and children. In a time when women have a much greater measure of freedom and when equality, if not always in actuality, at least theoretically, is perfectly acceptable, it can be quite difficult to see what all the fuss was about.
Edna Pontellier is married to Leonce, a wealthy stockbroker and has two sons whom she adores. But she is bored, with her comfortable existence; she has artistic leanings and sells her drawings and paintings successfully. Robert Lebrun, one of the sons of the lady whose house they occupy in the summer, accompanies her when batheing, and is generally at hand as a companion when her husband is away in the city. An idyllic picture of ease and luxury is the setting, but then Robert goes away to work in Mexico. The summer ends and Edna and Leonce take up their city existences in a beautiful mansion in New Orleans once again. Another man, Alceè Arobin, a wealthy but dissolute young man, pursues Edna, and it is very delicately suggested, he is successful in his attentions. But Edna's secret thoughts are all about Robert and when he returns to New Orleans things come to a head. Ultimately, Edna makes a sacrifice of herself, since she cannot have the love of Robert.
This book is a very easy read, there being no polemic or feminist philosophy beyond that suggested by events. It cannot, of course, in the time of East Enders - not to mention the soft porn industry - have the impact it had at its first publication, but it is also quite easy to see how it offended the great and the good. Imagine! A woman wants more than husband and children! Outrageous!