Who was Kate Chopin?
Kate Chopin was an American feminist writer. She penned two novels besides writing more than a hundred short stories and sketches. It was her great grandmother who helped her to enrich her knowledge about French culture and feminism that inspired her literary works in later period of her life. Louisiana acted as the background for most of her stories. Her earlier writings reflect the influence of William Dean Howells, a realist author. She skilfully employed the ironic style of Maupassant through several of her short stories like “Desiree’s Baby”. She had to face severe criticism by male critics for her usage of controversial topics like marriage, feminism and suicide in her novel “The Awakening”. The critics found the content of this novel controversial as one of its female characters has two lovers, which the critics considered as completely unethical. Through her writings, she supported the ability of women to think independently. Her short stories like “The Story of an Hour” and “A Pair of Silk Stockings” mirror her liberal attitude towards women. Her several short stories were published in renowned magazines like “Vogue”. Unfortunately, she did not receive much acknowledgement for her literary works but after her death, scholars found her controversial novel “The Awakening” as a thought provoking creation.
Childhood & Early Life
Born as Katherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, Kate Chopin was the daughter of Thomas O’Flaherty, a successful businessman and Eliza Faris.
In 1855, she took admission at The Sacred Heart Academy in St. Louis where she excelled in studies and won medals. In the same year, her father passed away in a train accident.
After his father’s death, she was raised by her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother. Her great-grandmother taught her French and music and Kate also learnt the art of storytelling from her.
As a teenager, she experienced the agony of Civil War. With encouragement of Madam O’Meara, one of her teachers, she started writing which provided her a way to express her feelings about the sufferings of war. She completed her graduation from The Sacred Heart Academy in 1868.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
Her first short story “A point at Issue!” appeared in the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” on October 27, 1889. After several months, her story “Wiser Than God” appeared in “Philadelphia Musical Journal”.
In 1890, she published her first novel “At Fault” at her own expense. Around this time, she got the membership of the Wednesday Club, but she left this club after some time.
During this time, several magazines and news papers like “Vogue”, “Harper’s Young” and “Youth’s Companion” published her works. The publication of her collection of short stories “Bayou Folk” by Houghton Mifflin in 1894 brought her critical acclaim.
In November 1897, Way & Williams published “A Night in Acadie”, her second volume of short stories.
Published in 1899, her novel “The Awakening” created much controversy for its discussion of issues like marriage, women, sexual desire and suicide. Due to the book’s disputable content, she was even denied admission into the St. Louis Fine Art Club.
In 1902, she published “Poly”, a short story which was her last publication.
Her collection of short stories, “Bayou Folk” appeared in 1894. This collection features “Desiree’s Baby”, notable for its content. It tells the story of Desiree, a lady who went through a difficult phase of life after the birth of her son. Due to the child’s African-American skin colouring, her husband expressed his doubt over her ancestry. Later, the story revealed that the husband’s racial identity is also ambiguous.
In 1899, her novel “The Awakening” was published. This work of Kate depicts the story of Edna Pontellier and her independent views of society. This book is notable for its treatment of feminism and psychology of human beings in a realistic manner.
Continue Reading Below
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1870, she tied the nuptial knot with Oscar Chopin, the son of a planter from Louisiana and shifted to New Orleans. Oscar used to run his business from here.
They had five sons and a daughter - Jean Baptiste, Oscar Charles, George Francis, Frederick, Felix Andrew and Lelia.
When her husband Oscar faced financial problems, he closed his business, and shifted to Cloutierville in north western Louisiana with his family. After reaching there, he used to run a general store and owned small plantation properties.
After Oscar’s death in 1882, she took the responsibility to run Oscar’s business and to repay the huge debt of her husband.
In 1884, she returned to her mother in St. Louis with her children but unfortunately, she lost her mother in 1885. Unable to endure the death of her husband and mother, she suffered from depression.
During this time, she started writing and that helped her to earn livelihood and provided her a way to overcome her depression.
She passed away after suffering from a stroke.
She posthumously received due recognition for her praiseworthy contribution as a writer when Per Seyersted took initiative to publish “Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography’ in 1969.
After her marriage, this American feminist writer used to dress in an unconventional way and smoked cigarettes which were contrary to the rules of expected female behaviour of that era.