PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project

© Paul P. Reuben

Chapter 6: Kate Chopin (1851-1904)

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-1999 Selected Bibliography 2000-Present | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap 6: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | October 28, 2011

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Source:
PBS - KC

Primary Works

At Fault, (1890); "The Story of an Hour" (E-Text), 1894; Bayou Folk, (1894); A Night in Acadie, (1897); The Awakening, (1899).

The Awakening (April 22, 1899)

This novel was condemned all over America on moral grounds. It was banned from the hometown St. Louis library and Kate Chopin was denied membership in a local arts club. Her other works include her first novel, At Fault (1890), and two collections of short stories, Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897).

Principal Characters in The Awakening: Edna Pontellier, a who experiences an awakening - she discovers her need to be an individual rather than merely a wife and mother; Leonce Pontellier, her Creole husband, treats Edna as if she were a possession; Robert Lebrun, a gentle young man who falls in love with Edna; Madame Adele Ratignolle, becomes Edna's friend; Mademoiselle Reisz, plays Chopin's preludes, the music contributes to Edna's awakening; Alcee Arobin, Edna's lover. Locale: Louisiana.

Selected Bibliography 1980-1999

Benfey, Christopher. Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Kate Chopin. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. PS1294 .C63 K38

Boren, Lynda S., and Sara Davis. eds. Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992. PS1294 .C63 K385

Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin. New York: Ungar Pub. Co., 1986. PS1294 .C63 Z64

Green, Suzanne D., and others. Kate Chopin: An Annotated Bibliography of Critical Works. Westport: Greenwood, 1999.

Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction. NY: Twayne, 1996.

- - -. ed. Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. NY: Penguin, 1999.

Martin, Wendy, ed. New Essays on The Awakening. New York: Cambridge, 1988.

Paris, Bernard J. Imagined Human Beings: A Psychological Approach to Character and Conflict in Literature. NY: New York UP, 1997.

Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985. PS1294 .C63 S55

Stange, Margit. Personal Prosperity: Wives, White Slaves, and the Market in Women. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998.

Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989. PS266 .L8 T39

Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. NY: Morrow, 1990. PS1294 .C6 T68

- - -. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.

Walker, Nancy ed. The Awakening: Kate Chopin. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Selected Bibliography 2000-Present

Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty. Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.

Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Benfey, Christopher. Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Bomarito, Jessica, and others. eds. Feminism in Literature: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2004.

Callahan, Cynthia. Kin of Another Kind: Transracial Adoption in American Literature. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2010.

Felder, Deborah G. A Bookshelf of Our Own: Works That Changed Women's Lives. NY: Citadel, 2005.

Gale, Robert L. Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Hebert-Leiter, Maria. Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2009.

Green, Suzanne D. ed. At Fault: A Scholarly Edition with Background Readings. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2001.

Koloski, Bernard. ed. At Fault. NY: Penguin, 2002.

Lohafer, Susan. Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics and Culture in the Short Story. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.

Shaker, Bonnie J. Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin's Youth's Companion Stories. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2003.

Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.

Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin's Short Fiction. NY: Peter Lang, 2005.

 

| Top |Kate Chopin (1851-1904): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Stefanie Ehman 

(please read the email below that disputes certain issues in this biography)

Catherine O'Flaherty was born in July 1850 in St. Louis, Missouri to an Irishman who was a prosperous merchant and a French-American mother who adored society and aristocracy (Seyersted 14). Kate was influenced heavily by both sides, but seemed to prefer her father's. She gained some of his positive traits, such as his calmness, his energy, his intelligence, and his self-reliance. He died suddenly in 1855, and Kate was then surrounded by a family of widows: her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother (16). This heightened her awareness of female roles in society and allowed her to be spared of the general submission of women to men (Skaggs 2). She used these influences to shape her views on woman's role in society and infused those ideals in her writing.

She entered formal education at the St. Louis Academy of the Sacred Heart in 1860. After which she joined fashionable society and became a well-known and well-liked belle of St. Louis. She also pursued her passions of music, literature, and writing (Seyersted 23). She met twenty-five year old Oscar Chopin of New Orleans, and in 1870 they were wed. They had a happy and loving relationship and one that was fairly unconventional. Oscar respected Kate as a unique and curious woman and allowed her enormous freedom in her endeavors (39). Yet, Kate had to fulfill a heavy social responsibility of being the wife of a Creole cotton broker and take care for their six children (Skaggs 3). Like Kate's father, Oscar also died a sudden death in 1883. The tremendous grief she felt for his loss seemed to stay with her through most of her life and was a great influence on her writing (Seyersted 46).

After her husband's death, Kate then turned to a writing career for several reasons: she was a insatiable reader, she needed to provide for her large family, and she was encouraged by her family doctor to pursue her passion of writing as a relief from her loss (Skaggs 3). She went on to have some poetry published and then her first novel, At Fault, was published in 1890. This novel gave her a starting point. It also showed a lack of experience and charted her growth and future development as a writer (Skaggs 73). The success of this novel stimulated her to write more, and in 1894 Bayou Folk, a collection of short stories, was published ( Seyersted 56). She expanded on her themes of female roles and love in her next collection of stories, A Night in Acadie, published in 1897 (Skaggs 27).

Her writing resembled the local color movement's characteristics in that she focused on characters from her part of the country and portrayed them through the social and physical settings in which they lived (Seyersted 75). These works allowed Chopin to reach a new height in her writing about the roles of women. The incarnation of that height would be her final work; the harshly received, yet important novel, The Awakening. This rebellious novel was brutally received by critics, her contemporaries, and readers. It ended her career as a writer permanently (Skaggs 88).

In her article "The Book that ruined Kate Chopin’s Career," S. Stipe points out that the contemporary world is rediscovering this work and is much more able to digest a novel about a woman who seeks independence. She points out that although Chopin’s book was banned and harshly received in her time, readers are "re-reading or discovering for the first time with astonishment and wonder and downright pleasure, [what] ruined Kate Chopin's career "and quite possibly contributed to the end of her life." (16). She is surprised that despite Kate’s upbringing and being a mother of six, she was able to have strong ideals about female independence and could create a protagonist that leaves her husband and children and ultimately kills herself. Stipe points out that it is understandable why Chopin’s readers had trouble with the book and she also points out that some modern readers might as well: "The Awakening is one of those books that starts heated debates in the classroom; the good news is that it’s now allowed in the classroom."(16).

Although her works are inspired and derivative of such movements as the local-color, realism, and naturalism, she has created a voice that is unique and unmatched. That voice gave an important view of the female role in society and contributed to the beginning of the later feminist movements. This voice continues to push the boundaries of social barriers. Peggy Skaggs believes Kate Chopin’s voice grows and is becoming clearer in declaring that "unless one’s inner person is integral with one’s outer roles and relationships, a fully satisfying life cannot be achieved." (11)

 Works Cited

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin, A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Stipe, Stormy. "The Book that Ruined Kate Chopin's Career." Biblio. Jan. 1999: 16.

| Top | From: Maria Lacey, 4/19/07 11:26 PM, maria@lewiston.com:

Dear Dr. Reuben~

http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/chopin.html states that The Awakening was banned from the St. Louis library.  Scholarship more recent than most of that used in the student work appearing at the above URL refutes this claim and others made in the PAL entry on Kate Chopin.   

On page 17 of The Awakening, edited by Nancy A. Walker of Vanderbilt University and published by Bedford Books in 1993 as part of the “Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism” series, Walker states that Emily Toth, in her biography of Kate Chopin, Kate Chopin, published by Morrow in 1990, establishes that the claim The Awakening was banned from St. Louis libraries has no basis in fact.  Walker indicates that Toth went to great lengths to establish that The Awakening was on loan at St. Louis libraries during Chopin’s lifetime.  

Although the novella did not enjoy critical success, Walker states that Chopin published again during her lifetime and was not subsequently ostracized by her peers (16-17).  Walker posits bad timing and Chopin’s Chicago publisher  may have contributed more to the end of her success as a writer than the negative reviews “The Awakening” received (12).    

Nor is it “given” that Chopin died of emotional duress prompted by bad reviews.  By contemporary standards she did die young—at age 52 of a suspected brain hemorrhage (17)—but so did her mother, who died at age 56 (9).  As Chopin allegedly suffered from poor health in the years preceding her death (17), one might conjecture both women were victims of something in their family medical history which doctors in their day did not know about or understand, such as female heart attacks or strokes.  Given the era and the number of children both women birthed, undiagnosed Type II diabetes—which is aggravated by multiple pregnancies, runs in families, can lead to strokes and was at the time nearly always fatal—is another possibility.  

Kind regards,

Maria Lacey

Study Questions

1. Consider alternative titles for Clemens's and Chopin's novels: The Awakening of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Edna Pontellier. Comment on the incongruity of each of these alternative titles in terms of the novels' designs, themes, and development of the central character.

2. Discuss Kate Chopin as a writer of local color fiction. To what extent does she appeal to a reader's natural interest in an aspect of regional society and life with which few had personal experience?

3. Edna Pontellier is caught in the contradictions between the way others see her and the way she sees herself. Identify several moments in which this becomes apparent, and show Edna's growing awareness of the contradiction.

4. Count, characterize, and analyze the numerous women of color in The Awakening. What does their presence and their treatment in the novel suggest about Edna's (and Chopin's) attitudes toward human development for nonwhite and poor women?

5. Some readers have described Edna's death in The Awakening as suicide; others view it as her attempt at self-realization. Argue the relative truth of both interpretations.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 6: Late Nineteenth Century - Kate Chopin." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/chopin.html (provide page date or date of your login).
 

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