Kate Chopin (February 8, 1850 – August 22, 1904) was an American author who made her mark writing stories for both adults and children in magazines like Vogue and The Youth Companion. Following the death of her husband and the failure of his businesses, she suffered from depression, but found writing to be the therapeutic outlet she needed. And because of the various changes in occupation and location, Chopin drew upon her experiences as material for her writing.
Living in the New Orleans area, she was inspired by those who, like here, were searching for a more fulfilling life of love and happiness. Chopin was a realist and wanted to represent the world as it was in her time, and she did this stunningly. She wasn’t afraid to confront harsh themes, as she did with the issue of racism in her short story, “Desirée’s Baby.”
Read the full text of The Awakening (1899)
Influence of Guy de Maupessant
Kate Chopin’s major literary influence was Guy de Maupessant. A French author from Normandy, he was best known for short stories. In his time, some of the themes he explored in his writing were sex, depression, and loneliness. Elements of the human condition, when they saw print, they were considered immoral — and in effect, he was often considered immoral as a result. Chopin described how moved she felt after she read Maupessant’s work:
“… I read his stories and marveled at them. Here was life, not fiction; for where were the plots, the old fashioned mechanism and stage trapping that in a vague, unthinkable way I had fancied were essential to the art of story making. Here was a man who had escaped from tradition and authority, who had entered into himself and looked out upon life through his own being and with his own eyes; and who, in a direct and simple way, told us what he saw…”
Chopin wrote short stories and short novels rather than tomes, and set most of them in the Creole and Cajun cultures. At Fault (1890), a novel about a young widow and the sexual constraints of women, foreshadows The Awakening (1899) which followed Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897).
Her most mature and best-known work remains The Awakening. It was controversial in its time, and some reviewers, including her contemporary, Willa Cather, offered up a rather harsh assessment. Though it was widely banned after it came out, it has endured, and is still in print. It’s not clear whether the poor reception of The Awakening discouraged Chopin, as she didn’t publish very much after that.
You might also like this 1899 review of The Awakening
A foremother of feminist literature
Chopin is admired as one of the foremothers of 20th century feminist literature. Though she herself may not have considered herself a feminist as such; she simply thought that women’s desires and ambitions were just as valid as men’s. As such, in her fiction, she focused on women’s constant struggles to forge an identity of their own, especially within the rigid constraints of Southern culture.
Though Chopin’s body of work is primarily fiction, her stories presented profound and very real observations. She allowed the range of human experience she viewed in everyday life to come through in her writing. Kate Chopin died in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904, at the age of 54.
On Certain Bright, Brisk Days: Kate Chopin on her writing life
More about Kate Chopin on this site
- Review by Willa Cather of The Awakening
- On Certain Brisk, Bright Days
- The Awakening (1899) – full text
- Influential Quotes by Kate Chopin
Biographies about Kate Chopin
- The Kate Chopin International Society
- 23 Short Stories
- Chopin’s works discussed on Goodreads
- Chopin’s books on Amazon.com
Read and Listen
- Chopin on Project Gutenberg
- Audio recordings of Chopin’s works on Librivox
- Amazon’s Kate Chopin page
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