Discussion Notes: The Story Of an Hour
Next week’s story is ‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love’ by Junot Diaz.
For the inaugural episode of Literary Roadhouse we got to know our hosts, and then had an exciting discussion about the definition of literary fiction. During the episode, we referenced a blog post that Gerald wrote, so make sure to check out that amazing read here.
Because many listeners wouldn’t have had time to read the story before the first taping, Maya read the story aloud and then we had a ruckus debate that touched on power, marriage and feminism. “The Story Of an Hour” may be over a hundred years old, but we all agreed that it felt modern and stood the test of time. What did you think of this weeks story?
We do have a rating scale. For the history of this goofy system, see Anais’s post “Read Short Stories or Ray Bradbury Cries.” On a scale of 1-6 Bradberries, how do you rate “The Story Of an Hour”? Tell us in the comments and we will give you the final tally on the next episode.
Next week’s story is “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” by Junot Diaz. We hope you enjoy the read and join us next Tuesday for the live discussion. The podcast will be available on iTunes within a few days.
35 comments on The Story Of an Hour by Kate Chopin – Literary Roadhouse Ep: 1
I’m struggling with the distinction of literary fiction versus genre fiction. To me, the categories have specific uses, but not universal application. Genre provides a method to adapt stories to reader expectations and to market fiction. The idea that fiction should be genre-specific can be an obstacle to creative expression. Great fiction transcends genre.
Ursula K. LeGuinn wrote science fiction but developed stories to pursue current themes. The best New Yorker short fiction is sometimes just about the story. Does it qualify as literary fiction based on method of publication?
Thoughtful, well-written pieces have the power to change me, no matter their source. I intend to ignore the categories and just enjoy the stories.
I agree with that the terms have specific uses, and most seem to revolve around marketing (and a little bit around elitism and gatekeeping).
Going with your Le Guin example, I would argue that the choice to call her work science fiction is purely a marketing choice. The Dispossessed is described as a dystopian science fiction novel, but it doesn’t follow the plotting of a typical science fiction novel – at all. It most definitely transcends the genre, and I would call it literary. But if I were a bookseller and I was stocking shelves, I would stick it on the science fiction shelf.
I think you’re right to ignore the genre tags. They’re there to give us a rough idea of whether or not we can expect racy sex scenes, aliens, or dead drops. Other than that, they say very little about quality.
On the other hand, the label literary seems to assign quality, unevenly and with prejudice against certain types of stories. I think this is what causes us such anxiety when dissecting the term. On the one hand, we like the easy tags for story-type and content. On the other hand, it feels ugly because it tries to prize certain stories above others for reasons that aren’t always clear or easy to agree on. It chafes.
The beginning of the story failed to capture me, but when she went into the room, locked herself in, and looked out the window and saw her freedom… at that moment I started to see the bipolar world she lived in. She was still in HER house, defined by a marriage, but outside of that window was her future. For some reason I could not stop thinking of Anais Nin, and her lifestyle as I read her emotions at that moment.
Her death was very symbolic… the world saw her death as induced by joy, in reality it was the loss of a future.
I don’t know much about Anais Nin’s lifestyle. What do you mean by that?
And I agree re: your comment about Mrs. Mallard’s death.
How many Bradberries would you give it?
Anais Nin (whom I named you after) lived a very bohemian lifestyle. Living outside of the expected sexual as well culture limitations of the society. She was a feminist not because she believed that women should be equal to men, but because she lived a life that was equal to men.
I would give it 3.5, I really got into it when she started seeing her freedom. The depth of the message conveyed, with such small amount of words was amazing. I agree with Gerald that the conclusion was hurried.
This was very interesting. Quite enjoyable. I had no idea what to expect. So glad I followed the link. I enjoyed it all.
And, hey, bonus: Maya, you are a wonderful narrator. You should totally do audio books. Wow. "Go girl!" 😉
Thank you, you comment means a lot to me. If I ever get good at audio editing and fix my S’s, I might actually consider it audio narration. I hate my voice usually, but recorded back… It doesn’t totally make me cringe lmao
I said in a previous comment I wanted to join the conversation, so here are my two cents on the story 😉
I did not know the period the story was written, to me it felt modern and introspective. I was there with Louise, I felt her grief, " She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone."
I understand how you can feel deep grief and relief at the same time. When the person you lose have been ill and suffering for a long time, and you have been the main caregiver for that person, you can feel a great sense of loss, relief, and why not, a sense of freedom all at the same time (even if you don’t admit these feelings to yourself because guilt takes you over).
In Louise’s case she had felt trapped in her marriage. To me whether or not it was a happy or unhappy marriage is inconsequential. Even in a very happy marriages you lose a little of yourself for the sake of the marriage. This is a consequence of the give and take, the compromises always talked about when people talk about marriage. She is surprised when the words free, free, scape her lips. She had not even allowed herself to think of any other life. The choice has been made for her, and she not only accepts this truth, she welcomes it. She starts to imagine another life. This longing for freedom which she has not even allowed herself to have until this moment, takes over her, and she basks in these thoughts. She doesn’t want to be interrupted while she imagines this new life, and then suddenly when her husband reappears, this life is taken from her. The author makes this point quite literally by having her die.
Good point about the theft of this new, free life manifesting in a literal death.
I also really like how her death is explained for her and in relation to her husband. Bleak.
Literary fiction is more about the message than the story, and the message the reader derives from the story may not necessarily be the message the author intended (just like modern art). In genre fiction the focus is more on the story, the story is the message. This is why genre fiction neatly fits into that genre box, and literary fiction doesn’t quite fit any box.
Good point about the author’s intended message and the reader’s received message not necesarily being in sync.
Your last line resonates with Maya’s opinion of literary fiction too.
I think is an excellent point, Maria!
I completely agree and it was an angle I hadn’t considered.
Someone once said to me literary fiction "is about nothing", which is a little harsh. It is difficult to explain to people what you’re reading, or writing, when we have such difficulty in explaining it to ourselves.
Maybe it’s all about layers – "genre" is superficial (but not necessarily in a bad way) – plot point, plot point, plot point, THE END. Literary has layers, subtle, sometimes hidden, meanings. A story under the story, a subtext.
Funny how you can think of clever things to say when you’re off air.
I like this Gerald. I know that subtle subtext is something I strive for and relish in writing. Often, done badly, it is just vague and pretentious. Done well, the story stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. The ability to read those layers into a story, can also keep it fresh for generations.
imo, literary fiction attempts a change in the world while genre fiction makes no such attempt
keeping with this, is there a good reason to presuppose A Clockwork Orange is literary fiction? it’s definitely not genre fiction but is it necessarily either/or? maybe the problem is a third "fiction" type needs to be created
Going with Gabriel’s broad definition, the A Clockwork Orange is definitely literary. In it, Burgess has a heavy-handed critique of behavioral psychology (Skinner’s radical breed) and wants that nixed.
Stanley Kubrik said re: A Clockwork Orange (and I lifted this straight from Wikipedia cause it’s so well-known), "…A social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots."
Not to mention the novel heavily ponders on what agency/free-will is and how that can exist within a society that has certain expectations of its members — that social contract, and more.
I think the problem Burgess encountered is he was trying to genre fiction, but couldn’t shut off his critical opinions re: the above.
Hahaha, Lord… I am imagining even more categories and want to run screaming. In my opinion, clockwork orange is literary sci-fi. Sure, it transcends it’s category but at it’s core… It’s still sci-fi. Which brings up my current rejection of the idea that a piece is either literary or genre. I think it can actually me both. Maybe even neither in the case of books that don’t say anything and don’t fit a genre… ie, crappy books lmao
The distinction, or attempt there at, brings to mind the one between fine art and pop art (an equally frought distinction). I don’t know what Art is but I know it when I see it.
Pierre Bourdieu has something to say on that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Distinction
Relevant quote: That is, the naturalization of this distinction of taste and its misrecognition as necessary denies the dominated classes the means of defining their own world, which leads to the disadvantage of those with less overall capital. Moreover, that even when the subordinate social classes might seem to have their own ideas about what is and what is not good taste, “the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated aesthetic, which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics” of the ruling class.
The distinction, really, has to do with class, primarily. It’s the same class distinction you see between fine art and pop art.
For further proof that it’s about class, look at the fact (which Maya recently relayed to me) that no literary fiction award will even considered a self-published book, where as some "genre" fiction awards will, even a few of the big ones. And that a writer with literary ambitions best not even consider self-publishing if they want to be embraced by the literary elites.
That may change a little in the next decade or so, but it’s too hard to tell.
Dees it attempt to change the world or does it do so as a byproduct? I wonder how much if at all the author’s intentions matter? If you just want to write a story and it happens to change thought… This reminds me of the idea of The Great Conversation. I both love and hate the idea as non European literature is often left out, but writing that participates in an ongoing cultural conversation with other authors going back hundreds of years is interesting. Perhaps my definition has changed yet again… To "literature that participates in a larger conversation"
Kenechi, what part of London did you grow up in?
Different parts of Barnet :). Are you a fellow Londoner?
I liked the story. I agree it stands the test of time. I give it 5 Bradberries! I also enjoyed the podcast, it was lively and "real". I appreciate the fact that everyone had something different to contribute to the conversation, and it made me want to join in the conversation. I look forward to the next one!
What did you want to contribute to the conversation? You can say it here! It’s what we want, anyway. 🙂