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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

In Waking, Eva Figes has produced a novella of remarkable insight and sensitivity to cap a distinguished career as an author of both fiction and nonfiction. In addition to this novella, published in her fiftieth year, Figes has to her credit three nonfiction works and a half-dozen works of fiction. The nonfiction works are Patriarchal Attitudes (1970), Tragedy and Social Evolution (1976), and Little Eden (1978); Figes’ previous works of fiction include Equinox (1967), Winter Journey (1967), Konek Landing (1969), B (1972), Days (1974), and Nelly’s Version (1977).

Inasmuch as Waking is largely autobiographical, Figes’ background is pertinent to understanding her novella. Eva Figes was born in 1932 in Berlin to Emil Eduard and Irma Cohen. In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Figes’ parents emigrated from Germany to England. Thus, Figes was educated in England, earning a B.A. (1953) with honors, in language and literature, from Queen Mary College of London University. In 1954, she married John G. Figes; the couple had two children—a girl, Catherine Jane, the oldest, and a boy, Orlando Guy. They were divorced in 1963. Many aspects of Figes’ upbringing, education, marriage, and motherhood are reflected in Waking.

In the meantime, Figes wrote and edited books. She began a job in 1955 with Longmans, Green and Co., Ltd., and subsequently worked for other publishers in several capacities. She has been an editor, a translator, and a writer of children’s books. In 1967, Figes won the prestigious Guardian Fiction Prize. These accomplishments, however, are not reflected in Waking.

To date, perhaps the best-known—in the United States—of Figes’ works is Patriarchal Attitudes, an analysis of sexism in the Western world. The thesis of this book is that males have taken advantage of their wealth and power in order to exploit females and that they have used religion to subjugate women. Figes here advocates women’s resistance to such dominance and manipulation. At the same time, she rejects the replacement of patriarchy with matriarchy. She envisions a future world of equity and mutual agreement. Yet as a consequence of her stance on relationships between the sexes, Figes has faced vitriolic opposition as well as unwelcome sycophancy. She views her position as centrist, but she is viewed in the press as a militant feminist whose public appearances attract both ardent supporters and virulent critics. The fact remains that Figes is an astute and balanced analyst of current society, and her views strongly inform those presented in Waking.

Indeed, Figes’ personal background and professional acumen lead, quite naturally, into her novella. Waking is presented in the first person—a choice which has both advantages and disadvantages. She is limited by the perceptions and experiences of her narrator, but she gains thereby a sense of authenticity and powerful immediacy. The novella has no real geographical setting. The book depicts a state of mind, or rather, a series of seven states of mind, structurally divided into seven chapters. The title, Waking, signifies the genuine setting. The narrator, in each of seven chapters, reminisces in a half-conscious, half-unconscious state between sleeping and wakefulness, a transition period normally described as “waking.” To be sure, in real life, some persons awaken to immediate consciousness, fully functional, yet others require a period of “waking” during which they slowly transform their psyches from the sleeping-dreaming state to the wakeful-conscious state. Figes’ novella is set in this latter circumstance, between sleeping and wakefulness—waking.

The seven parts or chapters of the novella correspond to seven crucial stages in a woman’s life: childhood, adolescence, a second pregnancy in an unhappy marriage, full sexuality as a divorcée, middle age, solitude with the maturation of children, and old age and death.

Chapter 1, consonant with the waking state, is poetic and impressionistic—a...

(The entire section is 1,548 words.)