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Featured Books

Featured Books

At FaultSummary and Reviews of At Fault
Bayou FolkSummary and Reviews of Bayou Folk
A Night In AcadieSummary and Reviews of A Night In Acadie
The Awakening (Norton Critical Editions)Summary and Reviews of The Awakening (Norton Critical Editions)
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories: At Fault/Bayou Folk/A Night in Acadie/The Awakening/UncollSummary and Reviews of Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories: At Fault/Bayou Folk/A Night in Acadie/The Awakening/Uncollected Stories (Library of America)
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Kate Chopin

Click the banner or the individual items listed to buy and read Chopin's work.

Katherine Chopin née Flaherty (1851-1904) lived in the nineteenth century, but her stories do not reflect her times-they seem to be a product of a later time.  No other writers until the 1960s dealt with subjects like divorce and female sexuality, but Chopin did.  No other writers until the 1960s dealt with interracial sexual relationships except Chopin.

Kate was born into a Catholic family in St. Louis and graduated from a Catholic high school.  Two years after high school graduation, she a Louisiana businessman named Oscar Chopin.  Over the next nine years, Kate played the perfect wife to a seemingly successful businessman, bearing six children.  In 1879, however, Oscar's business failed, and the family to Clouitierville from New Orleans.  There are they lived a more modest life on a family farm.  Oscar died twelve years into their marriage making Kate a widow at the age of thirty-two.  She had to find a way to financially support her six children.  She did so more or less successfully, but she eventually had to move her family back to St. Louis.

At the age of thirty-nine, Chopin decided to give writing a try.  She began with poetry and short fiction.  Within a decade, she had an amazing publishing record, including twenty poems, ninety-five short stories, two novels, a play, and literary criticism essays.  Her fiction, mostly set in the Louisiana of the late nineteenth century, is unquestionably her best work.  Her characters came from all cultures and classes, and contained relationships involving a mixture of all of them.

"Wiser Than a God" and "A Point at Issue" were Chopin's first two stories.  These stories set a pattern for her work in that their main theme was the woman's struggle find an independent identity apart from her husband's and the idea that this leads to an unhappy marriage.  These stories are not as refined as her later work, but they set a precedent for Chopin's best work later in life.

At Fault (1890) was her first novel.  She broke new ground here also, with themes of divorce and alcoholism.  The novel was a commercial failure, and maybe it was just as well because her best work ended her career.  Chopin's first appearance in major Eastern magazines was with children's stories.  These stories did not deal with the bold subjects of her other work, but tales like "Loka" and "Odalie Misses Mass" were of a high order.  She eventually published two collections of her children's stories, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie.  She compiled another collection called "A Vocation and a Voice," but it hasn't been published even to this day.

Chopin also wrote short stories for adults, such as "Athénaïse," "A Pair of Silk Stockings," "and "The Story of an Hour."  While she does write about women who feel trapped in their marriage, she also presents some women who find happiness in marriage with children.  So, her writing is not always predictably hostile to men.

"Désirée's Baby" was one of her most daring stories, dealing with miscegenation, a subject most people of the day would rather ignore.  In "La Belle Zoraïde," Chopin exposes the inherent cruelty of the slave system by depicting its tragic result even in the best of circumstances.  "A Vocation and a Voice," the titular story of her unpublished collection, depicts identity crisis as it relates to sexuality in both men and women.

Chopin created her masterpiece, The Awakening, in 1899.  Here she repeats the theme of a woman's need to find an identity apart from her husband, and thus a happy marriage.  Controversy erupted on all sides for her assertion that a wife should take control of her own life and not let her husband dictate how she should live. 

It was not until Chopin's Complete Works became available that critics began to recognize Chopin's achievement.  She eventually found her way into the canon of American literature.  Critics began to recognize the influence of such luminaries as Hawthorne, Whitman, and Henry James  on Chopin, as well as elements from diverse movements like romanticism, Transcendentalism, realism, and naturalism.  Added to this are similarities to twentieth-century existentialism and feminism.  In other words, she was a writer with a unique voice, and that is the mark of a literary leading light.


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