By the Editors of KateChopin.org
The principal characters in The Awakening have French names. Kate Chopin was fluent in both French and English and lived among both French-speaking and English-speaking people, so she probably pronounced those names as French-speaking people would.
Here, in capital letters, is how a native speaker of American English seeking to approximate today’s French sounds would pronounce the names of the major characters. [ The words in brackets are transcribed in the International Phonetic Alphabet. If you’re not familiar with IPA transcription, you can check this website or other websites that explain how to read IPA. ]
Edna Pontellier: ED-NAH PONE-TILL-YAY [ ɛdna põtəlje ]
Léonce Pontellier: LAY-ONSE PONE-TILL-YAY [ leõs põtəlje ]
Robert Lebrun: ROW-BEAR LEH-BRUH (N)* [ ʁɔbɛʁ ləbʁoe˜ ]**
Adele Ratignolle: AH-DELL RAH-TIN-YOL [ adɛl ʁatiɲɔl ]
Alcée Arobin: AL-SAY AR-O-BAH (N)* [ alse aʁɔbɛ˜ ]**
*(The “N” at the end of “Lebrun” or “Arobin” combines with the vowel before it to produce a nasal sound; in French the final “N” in these names is not pronounced as a separate consonant, as it would be in English)
**(The nasal vowels corresponding to ɛ and oe are noted by the ɛ and oe followed by a ˜)
Other characters in The Awakening have names that probably come from English (Highcamp), German (Reisz), or Spanish (Mariequita).
Kate Chopin’s work is read today in countries around the world—in both its original English and in translations into twenty-some other languages—so readers may pronounce Edna Pontelleir in many different ways. If, however, you want to pronounce Edna’s name—and the names of other French characters—as Kate Chopin herself probably did, you could try the transcriptions above.
You can read about the French expressions in the novel by checking the questions and answers section on The Awakening page of this site.