American author Kate Chopin (1850–1904) wrote two published novels and about a hundred short stories in the 1890s. Most of her fiction is set in Louisiana and most of her best-known work focuses on the lives of sensitive, intelligent women.
Her short stories were well received in her own time and were published by some of America's most prestigious magazines, including Vogue and the Atlantic Monthly. Her early novel At Fault (1890) was not much noticed by the public, but The Awakening (1899) was widely condemned. Critics called it morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable (continue)
Questions and answers about Kate Chopin
New research: "The Awakening and American Libraries"
A rediscovered Kate Chopin short story
The death of Chopin scholar John R. May
Two new books about Kate Chopin
Barbara Kingsolver on The Awakening in The Guardian
Kim Basinger records The Awakening
The Awakening in Swedish and Malayalam
Kate Chopin's visit to Germany
A Giclée edition of The Awakening
Kate Chopin in Firsts, The Book Collector's Magazine
A translation of Chopin's poems into French
A graphic version of "The Story of an Hour"
Translations of / books about Chopin in Portuguese
Kate Chopin and Vogue
Chopin house photos at the Library of Congress
High school lesson plans for The Awakening from NEH
Kate Chopin: Questions and Answers
Question: How do you pronounce "Chopin"?
Answer: In the French way, like that of the composer, Frédéric Chopin—in English, something like SHOW-pan.
Q: When was Kate Chopin born? Some internet sites say 1851 and others 1850.
A: Her tombstone says 1851, but thirty years ago a French scholar revealed that the United States census and her baptismal certificate (no birth certificate exists) show that Chopin was born on February 8, 1850. The Library of Congress in September, 2009, accepted the corrected date, but some printed sources and web sites still give her birth date as 1851.
Q: Was Kate born a Chopin or is that her married name?
A: She was born Catherine O'Flaherty.
Q: Was Kate Chopin's husband related, however distantly, to Frédéric Chopin the composer?
A: Apparently not. Kate Chopin has had three biographers, but none of them has discovered a family connection, and a French scholar in Paris has not found a link.
Q: Was Kate Chopin’s work forgotten until her literary revival in the 1970s?
A: With a few exceptions here and there, The Awakening was. But some of Chopin's short stories were not forgotten. Several of those stories appeared in anthologies from the 1920s on, and several important scholars were writing about her fiction for decades before it caught fire with the appearance of her Complete Works in 1969 (more questions and answers).
The Awakening and American Libraries
For three-quarters of a century, scholars have been studying the reception of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in 1899 and the following years. Some scholars wrote that the book had been banned (apparently not true). Others wrote that it had been removed from the shelves of public libraries.
Charles Johanningsmeier (University of Nebraska at Omaha) has published an important article showing that the matter is very complex. In his article, Johanningsmeier explains that he has been "investigating how American public libraries, and specifically those who ran them, actually dealt with a wide variety of works by realist and naturalist authors between 1880 and 1914." He describes how he had examined data (finding lists and catalogs) at eighty American public libraries to see how the library staff had dealt with The Awakening and other fiction at the turn of the twentieth century. His conclusion:
"The new information related here does highlight . . . how important
it is to continue examining long-held beliefs about the role libraries
played in making texts available—or not available—to American
readers in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the cases of
other works of boundary-pushing fictions such as Maggie: A Girl of the
Streets, Rose of Dutcher’s Coolly, and The Damnation of Theron Ware, I have found that a surprisingly large number of librarians—chiefly from larger towns and cities—courageously purchased them and made them available to patrons, despite the likelihood of encountering community resistance. With The Awakening, unfortunately, there were many more librarians who chose to take the safer option of not adding it to their collections. Nevertheless, it is clear more refined brushstrokes are needed to more accurately depict Chopin’s reception among American librarians, and that scholars should continue questioning and investigating aspects of her career that have been repeated so frequently as to appear almost unquestionable. The result of such scholarship will, undoubtedly, be a more complex and accurate picture not only of how Chopin’s contemporaries regarded her and her fictions, but also of what kind of cultural work they performed."
Johanningsmeier's article appears in Studies in American Naturalism (Winter 2013), volume 8, no. 2, pp. 236–48.
A Rediscovered Kate Chopin Short Story
Kate Chopin scholars Bonnie James Shaker and Angela Gianoglio Pettitt sent us this message:
We wish to share news of recovering the printed text of Kate Chopin's "Her First Party," which first appeared in the Youth's Companion, 30 March 1905. Chopin had alternately titled the manuscript "Millie’s First Party" and "Millie’s First Ball" in her Account and Memoranda Notebooks.
"Her First Party" appears as a Reprint Feature in the December 2013 issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, Volume 30, Number 2. It is accompanied by our critical essay, which attempts to reconstruct editorial publishing history at the fin de siècle in hopes of understanding why the Youth's Companion may have held Chopin's manuscript so long that the story appeared seven months after her death.
The Legacy editorial staff has published an abstract for the reprint, and you can access the introduction to the Legacy article.
You can read Kate Chopin's "Her First Party" in a PDF. The story appeared in Youth's Companion on 30 March 1905 (Volume 79, Issue 13).
A Translation of Kate Chopin's Poems into French
Gérard Gâcon has translated Kate Chopin's poems into French. His volume, Sous le ciel de l'été, was published by l'Université de Saint-Étienne in 2009.
The original English and the French translation of each of the forty-six poems are presented side by side, and the volume contains an introduction that includes a discussion of Chopin's prose works "Athénaïse," "Charlie," "The Story of an Hour," and "The White Eagle." After the poems is a translation of "The White Eagle" into French, an annex with translated passages from Chopin's 1894 diary and her 1897 dedication to Ruth McEnery Stuart in a copy of Bayou Folk, along with excerpts from an interview Chopin's son Felix gave in 1949. The volume concludes with a brief chronology of Chopin's life and a short bibliography.
Gérard Gâcon has translated Shakespeare into French as well as work by Robert Herrick, Andrew Marvell, Lewis Carroll, and others British writers. Some of his translations are published in Paris by Gallimard in the prestigious Pléiade series.
Here is Kate Chopin's last poem, written in 1900:
To the Friend of My Youth: To Kitty
It is not all of life
To cling together while the years glide past.
It is not all of love
To walk with clasped hands from first to last.
That mystic garland which the spring did twine
Of scented lilac and the new-blown rose,
Faster than chains will hold my soul to thine
Thro' joy, and grief, thro' life--unto its close.
And here is Gâcon's translation of the poem:
Kate Chopin in Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine
An article about Kate Chopin by Thomas Bonner Jr. and Robert E. Skinner appears in the February, 2013, issue of Firsts: The Book Collector's Magazine.
The eight-page article, titled "Rebel in Life and Fiction: Kate Chopin and Her Writings," describes Chopin's life, offers a detailed explanation of her best-known works, documents the ups and downs of her popular and critical reception over the past hundred years, and closes with the information that collectors interested in her available books need in order to find copies for purchase.
The article estimates that a first edition of Bayou Folk, Chopin's first collection of short stories, would now sell for between $1,000 and $2,000; a first edition of A Night in Acadie, her second volume of stories, would sell for $2,000 to $3,000; and a first edition of The Awakening, her 1899 novel, would sell for between $6,000 and $8,000.
Recent Books about Kate Chopin
New: Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and George Washington Cable, by James Nagel. 224 pages, 12 illustrations. University of Alabama Press, 2014. $44.95.
New: Critical Insights: The Awakening, edited by Robert C. Evans. Essays by Robert D. Arner, Janet Beer and Helena Goodwyn, Thomas Bonner, Jr., Stephen Paul Bray, Joyce Dyer, Robert C. Evans, Sarah Fredericks, Bernard Koloski, Courtney Lane Rottgering, Jeffrey Melton, Mary E. Papke, Peter J. Ramos, Julieann Veronica Ulin, and David Z. Wehner. 314 pages. Grey House Publishing, 2014. $85.
Beauty in Love and Death—An Aesthetic Reading of Kate Chopin’s Works [in Chinese] by Xuemei Wan. 268 pages. China Social Sciences Press, 2012, 39.2 yuan.
Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival, edited by Bernard Koloski. Recollections and critical insights by Robert D. Arner, Thomas Bonner, Jr., Lynda S. Boren, Anna Shannon Elfenbein, Barbara C. Ewell, Bernard Koloski, Susan Lohafer, Mary E. Papke, Barbara H. Solomon, Marlene Springer, Helen Taylor, and Emily Toth. 232 pages. Louisiana State University Press paperback, 2012, $18.95 (hardcover edition, 2009). You can hear a podcast about Kate Chopin and this book. (The podcast has a second part.)
Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin, by Robert L. Gale. 191 pages. McFarland, 2009. $75.
Kate Chopin in the Twenty-first Century: New Critical Essays, edited by Heather Ostman. Essays by Donna Kornhaber and David Kornhaber, Jane F. Thraikill, Heidi Johnsen, Garnet Ayers Batinovich, Lisa A. Kirby, Meredith Frederich, Rebecca Nisetich, and Li-Wen Chang. 162 pages. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008. $44.99.
A reader of Real Simple writes that Chopin's short story "The Storm" is "exquisite and passionate."
Her comment appears on p. 22 of the January 2013 issue of the magazine.
The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin, edited by Janet Beer. Essays by Emily Toth, Donna Campbell, Pamela Knights, Susan Castillo, Katherine Joslin, Ann Heilmann, Michael Worton, Elizabeth Nolan, Avril Horner, Helen Taylor, and Bernard Koloski. 184 pages. Cambridge University Press, 2008. $29.99.
Kate Chopin's The Awakening, edited by Harold Bloom. Essays by Dorothy Dix, Percival Pollard, Cyrille Arnavon, Kenneth Eble, Stanley Kauffmann, Cynthia Griffin Wolff, Lawrence Thornton, Sandra M. Gilbert, Rosemary F. Franklin, Barbara H. Solomon, Elizabeth Ammons, Margo Culley, Kathryn Lee Seidel, Margit Stange, and Emily Toth. 96 pages. Chelsea House, 2008. $30.
At Fault is on line
Kate Chopin's early novel At Fault is available on line at the Project Gutenberg site. You can download it or you can read it on line. It's searchable by word or phrase or chapter number, and it's an accurate, trustworthy text.
A Graphic Short Story Based on "The Story of an Hour"
Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell's newest book is called Cecil and Jordan in New York (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009). It's a collection of short works.
Here is the first page of a story called "One Afternoon":
The New York Times says Cecil and Jordan in New York "is narrated by a young woman who's just moved to the city with her filmmaker boyfriend; it's a clear-cut tale of impecunious 20-something artists until halfway through, when the narrator abruptly transforms herself into a chair, gets taken home by someone who finds her on the sidewalk and decides that her old life won’t miss her. The engine of these mercilessly observed stories is squirminess: emotional awkwardness so intense that it can erupt into magic or just knot itself into scars."
Kate Chopin and Vogue
Kate Chopin's famous short story "Désirée's Baby" appeared in Vogue in January 1893. It was the earliest of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that the magazine published.
Vogue's first issue had come out just a few weeks before, in December 1892. It cost ten cents (about $2.30 in 2011 American dollars). The cover:
Chopin's "The Story of an Hour," "A Respectable Woman," and "A Pair of Silk Stockings" also appeared in Vogue.
Kate Chopin's picture appeared in the December, 1894, issue. Emily Toth explains in Unveiling Kate Chopin that Chopin is presented "in an etherial contemplative pose, wearing a small black headdress. Vogue's caption praised both her brains and beauty:
'MRS. KATE CHOPIN—A beautiful woman, whose portrait fails to convey a tithe of the charm of her expressively lovely face, has been an honored contributor to Vogue almost from its first number. . . . Mrs. Chopin is daring in her choice of themes, but exquisitely refined in the treatment of them, and her literary style is a model of terse and finished diction.'"
In December, 2011, Vogue announced that all of its issues (from 1892 on) are available online.
High School Lesson Plans for The Awakening from the National Endowment for the Humanities
The National Endowment for the Humanities has posted a three-lesson curriculum unit for teaching Kate Chopin's The Awakening to high school students in grades 9 through 12.
The unit includes an overview, guiding questions, learning objectives, and preparation instructions.
The first lesson is called "Kate Chopin's The Awakening: No Choice but Under?" Lesson two focuses on "Realism and Local Color in Late 19th Century America." And lesson three concludes the unit with "Searching for Women & Identity in Chopin's The Awakening."
The unit also contains extensive lesson activities, assessment suggestions, resources, and ideas for extending the lessons.
Translations of The Awakening into Swedish and Malayalam
Laurie Gardner in Bucksport, Maine, tells us that Kate Chopin's The Awakening has been translated into Swedish.
The translation, Uppvaknandet, was done by Margareta Lundgren and was published by Forum in Falköping, Sweden, in 1977.
We have learned that the novel has also been translated into Malayalam, a language spoken by about 33 million people in the state of Kerala, on the Malabar Coast in southwestern India. The translation was done by Krishnaveni and was published by Kairali Books / Kabani Books in 2012.
The Awakening has also been translated into Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, Galician, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish. If you know of a translation into another language, would you write to us?
Kate Chopin House Photos and Drawings at the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress holds a collection of photographs and drawings of the house that Kate Chopin and her husband Oscar moved to in 1879 after Oscar closed his New Orleans business because of hard financial times. The house is in Cloutierville, a small French village in Natchitoches Parish, in northwestern Louisiana.
Oscar died of malaria in 1882, so Kate became a widow at age thirty-two, with the responsibility of raising six children. In 1884 she moved with her family back to St. Louis, where she had been born and had spent her childhood years. The Cloutierville house burned in 2008.
A Rediscovered Kate Chopin Short Story: The Legacy Abstract for the Article Describing the Recovered Story
The Legacy editorial staff has published this abstract for Bonnie James Shaker and Angela Gianoglio Pettitt's article:
In this essay, Bonnie James Shaker and Angela Gianoglio Pettitt consider "Her First Party," a recovered story by Kate Chopin, in the context of nineteenth-century publication history and the rise of the digital humanities in the twenty-first. Published posthumously in 1905 in the Youth’s Companion, the story mobilizes familiar characteristics of Chopin's oeuvre to critique white bourgeois standards of respectable femininity. Unlike two other stories believed to be her last publications, "Her First Party" revises our understanding of Chopin’s post-Awakening writing, previously interpreted as somewhat depressed and defeated after the novel's unfavorable reviews. Instead, "Her First Party" allows us to see that Chopin actually enjoyed many successes with the Companion in the handful of years between her novel and her death. In reinterpreting Chopin's last writings and their place in the legacy of her work, Shaker and Pettit rely on an analysis of nineteenth-century publishing practices. Because "Her First Party" was published posthumously, the authors argue, as well as in a periodical associated with family fiction and one also known for delaying publication, the story remained "hidden" from modern readers. Using new search methods and databases, however, the authors illuminate the significance of digital research as an exciting tool for recovery. The case of Chopin's recovered story thus serves both as a testament to the increasing importance of the digital humanities as well as an urgent call for the need to continue historicizing nineteenth-century authorship and publishing practices.
The photographs at the top of pages throughout this site: Kate O'Flaherty (later Kate Chopin) in 1869, at age nineteen (courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, USA); Oakland House, the mansion in St. Louis where Kate O'Flaherty met Oscar Chopin, the man who would become her husband; and pinks—the flowers mentioned in the closing sentence of The Awakening.
If you're citing photographs or other images on the site, list the person credited beneath the image. Most images on the site that do not have a credit beneath them are in the public domain, so they do not need an attribution. But please note several exceptions: For book covers, check with the publisher. For the photograph of Kate Chopin at the top of the home page and other pages, list the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. The constructed designs on the top of this and many other many pages--© 2005, 2012 by Jenny Oyallon-Koloski.
You can read questions and answers about Kate Chopin and her work, and you can email us your questions.
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