Kate Chopin

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Kate Chopin.jpg
Born Katherine O'Flaherty
(1850-02-08)February 8, 1850
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Died August 22, 1904(1904-08-22) (aged 54)
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Occupation Novelist, short story writer
Genres realistic fiction
Notable work(s) The Awakening

Kate Chopin, born Katherine O'Flaherty (February 8, 1850 — August 22, 1904), was an American author of short stories and novels. She is now considered by some to have been a forerunner of the feminist authors of the 20th century.

From 1892 to 1895, she wrote short stories for both children and adults which were published in such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, The Century Magazine, and The Youth's Companion. Her major works were two short story collections, Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897). Her important short stories included "Desiree's Baby," a tale of miscegenation in antebellum Louisiana (published in 1893),[1] "The Story of an Hour" (1894),[2] and "The Storm"(1898).[1] "The Storm" is a sequel to "The 'Cadian Ball," which appeared in her first collection of short stories, Bayou Folk.[1] Chopin also wrote two novels: At Fault (1890) and The Awakening (1899), which are set in New Orleans and Grand Isle, respectively. The people in her stories are usually inhabitants of Louisiana. Many of her works are set in Natchitoches in north central Louisiana.

Within a decade of her death, Chopin was widely recognized as one of the leading writers of her time. In 1915, Fred Lewis Pattee[3] wrote, "some of [Chopin's] work is equal to the best that has been produced in France or even in America. [She displayed] what may be described as a native aptitude for narration amounting almost to genius."

Life[edit]

Chopin and her children in New Orleans, 1877

Chopin was born Katherine O'Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was a successful businessman who had emigrated from Galway, Ireland. Her mother, Eliza Faris, was a well-connected member of the French community in St. Louis. Her maternal grandmother, Athénaïse Charleville, was of French Canadian descent. Some of her ancestors were among the first European inhabitants of Dauphin Island, Alabama. She was the third of five children, but her sisters died in infancy and her brothers (from her father's first marriage) in their early twenties. She was thus the only child to live past the age of twenty-five. After her father's death in 1855, Chopin developed a close relationship with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She also became an avid reader of fairy tales, poetry, and religious allegories, as well as classic and contemporary novels.

In 1870, at the age of 20, she married Oscar Chopin and settled in New Orleans. Chopin had all six of her children by 28. In 1879, Oscar Chopin's cotton brokerage failed, and the family moved to Cloutierville in south Natchitoches Parish to manage several small plantations and a general store. They became active in the community, and Chopin absorbed much material for her future writing, especially regarding the Creole culture of the area. Their home at 243 Highway 495 (built by Alexis Cloutier in the early part of the century) was a national historic landmark and the home of the Bayou Folk Museum. On October 1, 2008, the house was destroyed by a fire, with little left but the chimney.[4]

When Oscar Chopin died in 1882 (like his half-brother two decades earlier), he left Kate with $12,000 in debt (approximately $250,000 in 2009 money). According to Emily Toth, "for a while the widow Kate ran his [Oscar's] business and flirted outrageously with local men; (she even engaged in a relationship with a married farmer)."[5]

Although Chopin made an honest effort to keep her late husband's plantation and general store alive, two years later she sold her Louisiana business. Her mother implored her to move back to St. Louis, so Chopin did, and the children gradually settled into life in St. Louis, where finances were no longer a concern. The following year, Chopin's mother died.[citation needed]

Chopin now found herself in a state of depression after the loss of both her husband and her mother. Her obstetrician and family friend, Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer, felt that writing would be a source of therapeutic healing for Kate during her hard times. He understood that writing could be a focus for her extraordinary energy, as well as a source of income.[6]

By the early 1890s, Kate Chopin was writing short stories, articles, and translations which appeared in periodicals, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was quite successful and placed many of her publications in literary magazines. However, she became known only as a regional local color writer and her literary qualities were overlooked.[citation needed]

In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening. was published, and the book was criticized because of its moral as well as its literary standards. This, her best-known work, is the story of a woman trapped in the confines of an oppressive society. Out of print for several decades, it is now widely available and critically acclaimed for its writing quality and importance as an early feminist work.[citation needed]

Some of her writings, such as The Awakening, were too far ahead of their time and therefore not socially embraced. After almost 12 years in the public eye of the literary world and shattered by the lack of acceptance, Chopin, deeply discouraged by the criticism, turned to short story writing.[citation needed] In 1900, she wrote "The Gentleman from New Orleans", and that same year she was listed in the first edition of Marquis Who's Who. However, she never made much money from her writing, and depended on her investments in Louisiana and St. Louis to sustain her.[citation needed]

Kate Chopin's grave in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri

After visiting the St. Louis World's Fair on a hot day on August 20, 1904, Chopin suffered a brain hemorrhage and died two days later, at the age of 54.[7] She was interred in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.[8]

Works[edit]

Kate Chopin
  • "Bayou Folk"
  • "A Night in Acadie"
  • "At the Cadian Ball" (1892)
  • "Desiree's Baby" (1893)
  • "The Story of an Hour" (1894)
  • "The Storm" (1898)
  • "A Pair of Silk Stockings"
  • "The Locket"
  • "Athenaise"
  • "Lilacs"
  • "A Respectable Woman"
  • "The Unexpected"
  • "The Kiss"
  • "Beyond the Bayou"
  • "Beauty of the Baby"
  • "A No-Account Creole"
  • "Fedora"
  • "Regret"
  • "Madame Célestin's Divorce"
  • At Fault (1890) Nixon Jones Printing Co, St. Louis
  • The Awakening (1899) H.S. Stone, Chicago

Honors and awards[edit]

In 1990 Chopin was honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame,[9] and in 2012 with a bronze bust at the Writer's Corner in St. Louis, Missouri.[10]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c William L. (Ed.) Andrews, Hobson, Trudier Harris, Minrose C. Gwwin (1997). The Literature of the American South: A Norton Anthology. Norton, W. W. & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-31671-1. 
  2. ^ Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. 
  3. ^ Fred Lewis Pattee. A History of American Literature Since 1870. Harvard University Press. p. 364. 
  4. ^ Welborn, Vickie (1888-10-01). "Loss of Kate Chopin House to fire 'devastating'". The Town Talk. 
  5. ^ Toth, Emily (1990). "Reviews the essay 'The Shadows of the First Biographer: The Case of Kate Chopin'". Southern Review (26). 
  6. ^ Seyersted, Per (1985). Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State UP. ISBN 0-8071-0678-X. 
  7. ^ http://www.katechopin.org/biography.shtml
  8. ^ http://www.katechopin.org/biography.shtml
  9. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "Kate Chopin Bust Unveiled". West End Word. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Kate O'Flaherty Chopin" (1988) A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. I, p. 176
  • Koloski, Bernard (2009) Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA. ISBN 978-0-8071-3495-5
  • Eliot, Lorraine Nye (2002) The Real Kate Chopin, Dorrance Publishing Co., Pittsburgh, PA. ISBN 0-8059-5786-3
  • Berkove, Lawrence I (2000) "Fatal Self-Assertion in Kate Chopin's 'The Story of an Hour'." American Literary Realism 32.2, pp. 152–158.
  • Toth, Emily (1999) Unveiling Kate Chopin. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS. ISBN 1-57806-101-6