Kate O'Flaherty Chopin was born 8 February 1851 into a prominent family in St.Louis, Missouri. Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, an Irish immigrant, was a successful St. Louis merchant who was killed in a railroad accident when Kate was only five years old. Kate's mother, Eliza was left a wealthy widow and raised Kate in a household "run by vigorous widows: her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother . . . a community of women who stressed learning, curiosity, and financial independence" (Toth, 187). Kate was formally educated at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis where she kept a commonplace book "in which the thoughtful adolescent recorded themes that appear in her later fiction, among them women's roles and the conflict between desire and duty" (Toth, 187).
On 9 June 1870, two years after graduating from the Academy, Kate married Oscar Chopin, the son of a planter from Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. They were married for twelve and a half years, spending nine in New Orleans and three in Cloutierville, Natchitoches Parish. During this time, Kate gave birth to five boys and one girl. "Devoting herself to her family and household, she still managed to reconcile the needs of her own being with the expectations of her conventional milieu. She dressed unconventionally and smoked cigarettes long before smoking was an approved practice among women in her class" (Inge, 91). When Oscar died of malaria in 1882, he left Kate twelve thousand dollars in debt. But being the resourceful woman her matriarchs raised, she ran the family plantation for a year and then returned with her children to her mother in St. Louis. A year later, Eliza O'Flaherty died and Kate began her career as a fiction writer in 1888.
Chopin's first short story, "A Point at Issue!" was published when Kate was thirty-nine. "Over the next fifteen years, until her death in 1904, she published two novels and wrote almost a hundred stories and sketches, two-thirds of them set in Louisiana and peopled with characters drawn from the rich cultural mixture of the region" (Inge, 91). Chopin's stories were published in periodicals such as Vogue, Harpers, Century, Saturday Evening Post, Atlantic, and various newspapers of St. Louis and New Orleans. Chopin achieved a greater sense of public success when Houghton Mifflin Company published Bayou Folk, which included sketches and tales, in March of 1894. "She was welcomed in more than a hundred press notices as a distinguished local colorist" (Seyersted, 25). Her second collection, A Night in Acadie, was published in Chicago in November, 1897, but received less notice than her first collection. However, Chopin's art was still praised by critics. "Her prose style was always lucid and unadorned; her stories were ironic, lush, and sensual in a manner more French than American" (Toth, 188).
Chopin's second novel, The Awakening, was published in 1899 and was immediately condemned nationally by male critics who found it "unwholesome" (Toth, 188). Although critically praised as a brilliant piece of writing, it was attacked on moral grounds because its heroine, a Louisiana wife and mother, has two lovers--an idea considered by the publishing industry to be a "poisonous and 'positively unseemly' theme" (Inge, 91). Disheartened by the negative response to The Awakening, Chopin wrote very little before her death on August 22, 1904 of a cerebral hemmorage. After her death, "she passed from the literary scene almost entirely unappreciated for her pioneering contributions to American fiction" (Inge, 91-92). It was not until Per Seyersted rediscovered her and published his Critical Biography and The Complete Works that she received credit for her years of work. Then in the late1950's, some scholars began to revisit and assess the artistic value of The Awakening. In the 1970's, after the publication of Seyersted's work, "critics devoted more attention to the the individual stories and gave greater place to Chopin's short story in their assessments of her literary achievement" (Inge, 109).Works Cited
Inge, Tonette Bond. "Kate Chopin," American Women Writers: Bibliographical Essays. Ed.Maurice Duke, Jackson R. Bryer, and M. Thomas Inge. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983, pp. 47-69.
Inge, Tonette Bond. "Kate Chopin," Dictionary of Literary Biography. American Short Story Writers 1880-1910, volume 78. Ed. Bobby Ellen Kimbel. Ann Arbor: Edward Brothers, 1989, pp. 90-109.
Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 6: American Naturalism: Kate Chopin (1851 - 1904)" PAL: Perspective on American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/chopin.html
Toth, Emily. "Kate Chopin," Oxford Companion to Women's Writing
in the U.S. Ed. Cathy N. Davidson, Linda Wagner-Martin.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 187-188.
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