Other books byKate Chopin
The author who today is probably best known for her novel The Awakening initially established her literary reputation with short stories about life in rural Louisiana during the late nineteenth century. Born Katherine O'Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, she later married Oscar Chopin, a Creole cotton trader and commission merchant, and lived in and around New Orleans for more than a decade until her husband's death. During these years, while raising six children on a Southern plantation, Chopin became acquainted with Creoles, Cajuns, and newly freed blacks. After her husband's death she returned to St. Louis and began writing, drawing from her recent experience in Louisiana to create her fiction. The stories collected in Bayou Folk present remarkably vivid snapshots of daily life in a now vanished world. Many of them highlight the relations between blacks and whites in a society where the rules of engagement still reflected the entrenched patterns of slavery some two decades after the Civil War. As she was ahead of her time regarding women's rights in The Awakening, where she depicted a woman unafraid to throw off traditional restraints, Chopin was also farsighted about race relations in Bayou Folk. Perhaps the story "Desiree's Baby" about the birth of a mixed-race baby to two "white" parents best expresses the uneasy relationship between blacks and whites in the old South, and the moral outrage of its strict codes against miscegenation. Chopin's gifts for capturing the dialects of the region and for telling a compelling story in memorable vignettes provide the reader with a richly rewarding experience.
The Awakening and Selected Stories
The Awakening shocked turn-of-the-century readers and reviewers with its treatment of sex and suicide. In a departure from literary convention, Kate Chopin failed to condemn her heroine's desire for an affair with the son of a Louisiana resort owner, whom she meets on vacation. The power of sensuality, the delusion of ecstatic love, and the solitude that accompanies the trappings of middle- and upper-class convention are themes of this now-classic novel. The book was influenced by French writers ranging from Flaubert to Maupassant, and can be seen as a precursor of the impressionistic, mood-driven novels of Virginia Woolf and Djuna Barnes. Variously called "vulgar," "unhealthily introspective," and "morbid," the book was neglected for several decades, not least because it was written by a "regional" woman writer.
Thérèse Lafirme, a beautiful and resourceful Creole woman, is widowed at age thirty-two and left alone to run her Louisiana plantation. When Thérèse falls in love with David Hosmer, a divorced businessman, her strong moral and religious convictions make it impossible for her to accept his marriage proposal. Her determined rejection sets the two on a tumultuous path that involves Hosmer's former wife, Fanny. At Fault is both romantic and filled with stark realism-a love story that expands to address the complex problem of balancing personal happiness and social duty-set in the post-Reconstruction South against a backdrop of economic devastation and simmering racial tensions. Written at the beginning of her career, At Fault parallels Chopin's own life and introduces characters and themes that appear in her later works, including The Awakening.
A Vocation and a Voice
Published for the first time as Chopin intended, this is a collection of her most innovative stories, including "The Story of an Hour," "An Egyptian Cigarette," and "The Kiss."