“The Story of an Hour” is Kate Chopin’s short story about the thoughts of a woman after she is told that her husband has died in an accident. The story first appeared in Vogue in 1894 and is today one of Chopin’s most popular works.
Read the story online
Time and place
When the story was written and published
What critics and scholars say
New Questions and answers
A graphic short story
Articles and books about the story
You can read the story in our online text. If you’re citing a passage from this or other Kate Chopin stories for research purposes, it’s a good idea to check your citation against one of these printed texts. This is especially important with “The Story of an Hour,” because some online versions of the story–and some published versions–omit a word that changes the meaning of what Kate Chopin is saying.
In the middle of the story, some online versions’ sentence reads, “There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself.” Compare that with the sentence as it appears in our online text: “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” If you don’t see why the word matters, or if you want to understand why there are two versions of the story, check our questions and answers below.
- Louise Mallard
- Brently Mallard: husband of Louise
- Josephine: sister of Louise
- Richards: friend of Brently Mallard
The story is set in the late nineteenth century in the Mallard residence, the home of Brently and Louise Mallard. More about the location is not specified.
Readers and scholars often focus on the idea of freedom in “The Story of an Hour,” on selfhood, self-fulfillment, the meaning of love, or what Chopin calls the “possession of self-assertion.” There are further details in what critics and scholars say and in the questions and answers below. And you can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
It was written on April 19, 1894, and first published in Vogue on December 6, 1894, under the title “The Dream of an Hour,” one of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Vogue published. It was reprinted in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895. The St. Louis Life version includes several changes in the text. As we explain in the questions and answers section of this page, it includes the word “her.”
You can find complete composition dates and publication dates for Chopin’s works on pages 1003 to 1032 of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006).
A great deal has been written about this story for many years. Some representative comments:
The story is “one of feminism’s sacred texts,” Susan Cahill wrote in 1975, when readers were first discovering Kate Chopin.
“Love has been, for Louise and others, the primary purpose of life,” Barbara C. Ewell says, “but through her new perspective, Louise comprehends that ‘love, the unsolved mystery’ counts for very little.” As Chopin insists, Ewell adds, “love is not a substitute for selfhood; indeed, selfhood is love’s precondition.”
“Mrs. Mallard will grieve for the husband who had loved her,” Mary Papke writes, but “will eventually revel in the ‘monstrous joy’ of self-fulfillment, beyond ideological strictures and the repressive effects of love.”
Kate Chopin “was a life-long connoisseur of rickety marriages, and all her wisdom is on display in her piercing analysis of this thoroughly average one,” Christopher Benfey argues.
“In the mid- to late 1890s,” Emily Toth writes, “Vogue was the place where Chopin published her most daring and surprising stories [‘The Story of an Hour’ and eighteen others]. . . . Because she had Vogue as a market—and a well-paying one—Kate Chopin wrote the critical, ironic, brilliant stories about women for which she is known today. Alone among magazines of the 1890s, Vogue published fearless and truthful portrayals of women’s lives.”
Her husband’s death forces Louise to reconcile her “inside” and “outside” consciousness, Angelyn Mitchell notes, exploring the idea of a female double consciousness within Louise’s thoughts. Though constrained by biological determinism, social conditioning, and marriage, Louise reclaims her own life, Mitchell adds—but at a price. Her death is the result of the complications in uniting both halves of her world.
Louise Mallard’s death isn’t caused by her joy at seeing her husband’s return or by her sudden realization that his death has granted her autonomy, Mark Cunningham maintains. Instead, he concludes that she dies as a result of the strain she is under. The irony of her death, he notes, is that even if her sudden epiphany is freeing, her autonomy is empty, because she has no place in society.
Louise’s death is the culmination of her being “an immature and shallow egotist,” Lawrence Berkove says. He focuses on the scene in Louise’s bedroom and points out how unrealistic her notion of love is. Her death, he writes, is the only place that will offer her the absolute freedom she desires.
And Per Seyersted writes, “This astonishing story strongly indicates that the sudden success which [the publication in 1894 of] Bayou Folk brought Kate Chopin was of crucial importance in the author’s own self-fulfillment. It gave her a certain release from what she evidently felt as repression or frustration, thereby freeing forces that had lain dormant in her. It is highly significant that she wrote ‘The Story of an Hour,’ an extreme example of the theme of self-assertion, at the exact moment when the first reviews of the book had both satisfied and increased her secret ambitions.”
You can search the titles in our extensive databases of books and articles for more information about this short story—information in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Q: I don’t understand what you mean about what happens if “her” is left out of the sentence at the top of the page, “There would be no one to live for her during those coming years; she would live for herself.” How does including “her” change the meaning of the sentence?
A: Without “her,” the sentence means that Louise Mallard has been living for her husband, that he has been the center of her life, that he has been her reason for living. With “her,” the sentence means that Brently Mallard has been controlling his wife’s life, that his “powerful will [has been] bending hers” to his, has been bending what she wants to what he wants, has been forcing her to live the way he wants her to live, to do what he wants her to do.
That’s an important distinction. “Her” in the sentence explains what Mrs. Mallard means by her newly recognized “possession of self-assertion,” what she means by whispering, “Free! Body and soul free!”
A: When the story was published in Vogue in 1894, the word “her” was not included. It’s not clear if “her” was in the copy Kate Chopin sent to Vogue or if the Vogue editor or printer left it out intentionally or accidentally. Some printed versions and some websites today use the Vogue version. You can see the sentence in question three lines down on the right column:
The story was reprinted the following year in St. Louis Life, which was edited by Sue V. Moore. Emily Toth, Chopin’s latest biographer, refers to Moore as “Kate’s friend” and a women who had promoted Chopin’s work for years. A clipping of the Vogue story pasted on a sheet of paper (and preserved now in the Missouri History Museum) shows two handwritten changes, one of which is the inserted word “her,” and the St. Louis Life version of the story includes those two changes, along with a few others (we are grateful to the staff of the St. Louis Public Library for providing us with this copy), You can see the sentence in question four lines down on the right column:
Daniel Rankin, Chopin’s earliest biographer, says those changes were “made by the author.” Per Seyersted, who edited the Complete Works of Kate Chopin, says they were “very likely made by the editor [Sue V. Moore].” Seyersted, nevertheless, included the two changes in his text of the story in the Complete Works. We use Seyersted’s text here. We include the “her.” Many printed sources and other websites include it, too.
Q: You say that the story was first published under the title, “The Dream of an Hour.” Who changed that title and why?
A: We can probably identify who changed it, but we don’t know why. The story appeared in Vogue in 1894 as “The Dream of an Hour.” Even as late as 1962, critic Edmund Wilson continued to refer to it under this title. But in 1969 it was called “The Story of an Hour” in the Complete Works of Kate Chopin.
It seems likely that Per Seyersted, who edited the Complete Works, changed the title, perhaps because Kate Chopin referred to “The Story of an Hour” in one of the two account books where she recorded how much she earned for each of her stories. In the other account book, she referred to the story as “The Dream of an Hour.” (Chopin’s account books are preserved in the Missouri History Museum and are transcribed in Kate Chopin’s Private Papers.)
It may be, however, that if Seyersted changed the title, he did so because a clipping of the Vogue story pasted on a sheet of paper (and housed now in the Missouri History Museum) has the word “Dream” crossed out and the word “Story” inserted.
Q: What does the present title mean?
A: The action of the story seems to play out in about an hour’s time.
Q: Do you know how much Vogue magazine paid Kate Chopin for the story?
Yes. Kate Chopin recorded in two account books how much she earned for each of her stories and novels. Vogue paid her $10 for “The Dream of an Hour,” the title under which the story appeared. Because of inflation (the usual increase in the level of prices), that $10 in 1894 would be worth about $280 today.
Q: Is it true that this is Kate Chopin’s most popular story?
A: It may be true. The story certainly appears in a great many anthologies these days. Kate Chopin’s sensitivity to what it sometimes feels like to be a woman is on prominent display in this work–as it is in The Awakening. Chopin’s often-celebrated yearning for freedom is also on display here–as is her sense of ambiguity and her complex way of seeing life, of seeing, for example, that it is both “men and women” who “believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature.”
From 1929 to about 1970, “Désirée’s Baby” was the best known of Chopin’s works, praised by critics and often reprinted. When the Complete Works of Kate Chopin was published in 1969, “The Storm”–unknown until that time–became famous almost over night, as did “The Story of an Hour.” Today “Désirée’s Baby,” “The Story of an Hour,” and “The Storm” are heavily discussed by scholars and regularly read in university and secondary school classes around the world, although a few other stories–among them “A Respectable Woman,” “Lilacs,” “A Pair of Silk Stockings,” “Athénaïse,” and “At the ‘Cadian Ball”–are also frequently read.
Q: I’ve read on a website that readers were scandalized by the story when it was published. Why?
A: It’s a mystery to us how the authors of that website could possibly know that readers in the 1890s were, in fact, scandalized by the story. Book reviewers were certainly upset by Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening in 1899. There are published reviews showing that. There is, however–so far as we can tell–no printed evidence that the “The Story of an Hour” set off a scandal among readers.
Nevertheless, it is true that, as Emily Toth says in Unveiling Kate Chopin, “Kate Chopin had to disguise reality. She had to have her heroine die. A story in which an unhappy wife is suddenly widowed, becomes rich, and lives happily ever after . . . would have been much too radical, far too threatening in the 1890s. There were limits to what editors would publish, and what audiences would accept.”
Q: I’m studying literature in France and am looking for a film adaptation of “The Story of an Hour.” Does one exist?
A: Thomas Bonner, Jr. (Xavier University of Louisiana) offers this response:
The Joy That Kills was produced by Cypress Productions in 1984 and released the following year as part of the Public Broadcast System’s American Playhouse series. Tina Rathborne (sometimes spelled Rathbone or Rathbourne) directed; she and Nancy Dyer wrote the script. Set in New Orleans in the 1870s, the film does not follow the almost existential lack of a specific setting and time in “The Story of an Hour.” It leans toward the New Orleans settings of The Awakening. It was filmed in one of the historic houses in the French Quarter of New Orleans with Ann Masson being the film’s art director. I always felt that the story, if it has a specific setting, is closer to the St. Louis area as it evokes Chopin’s loss of her father in a train wreck and that the film helped explicate The Awakening more than the story.
And Emily Toth (Louisiana State University) adds that “there’s at least one other film of ‘The Story of an Hour,’ by Ishtar Films.”
Q: Do you happen to know if “The Story of an Hour” is published in any Swedish book or magazine? I have found it online (Swedish title: Berättelsen om en timme), but nowhere in print. I have an old photocopy of the short story, which is obviously from a book, but no one I have talked to (including librarians) knows where it is from.
A: We have found no answer to this question. If you have useful information, would you contact us?
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
Kate Chopin: A Vocation and a Voice. Edited by Emily Toth. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
Cartoonist Gabrielle Bell’s Cecil and Jordan in New York (Drawn and Quarterly, 2009) is a collection of graphic short stories.
Here is the first page of a story called “One Afternoon,” based on Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”:
Gabrielle Bell reimagines “The Story of an Hour” within a larger narrative, which, the New York Times says, “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.”
Some of the works listed here may be available online through university or public libraries.
Mayer, Gary H. “A Matter of Behavior: A Semantic Analysis of Five Kate Chopin Stories.” ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 67.1 (2010): 94-104.
Shen, Dan. “Wen Xue Ren Zhi: Ju Ti Yu Jing Yu Gui Yue Xing Yu Jing.” [in Chinese] Foreign Literature Studies/Wai Guo Wen Xue Yan Jiu 32.5 (2010): 122–8.
Jamil, S. Selina. “Emotions in ‘The Story of an Hour’.” Explicator 67.3 (2009): 215-220.
Wan, Xuemei. “Kate Chopin’s View on Death and Freedom in The Story of an Hour.” English Language Teaching 2.4 (2009): 167-170.
Emmert, Scott D. “Naturalism and the Short Story Form in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.” Scribbling Women & the Short Story Form: Approaches by American & British Women Writers. 74-85. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008.
Chen, Hui and Chang Wei. “Meng Jing Shi Fen De Fen Ceng Gou Si Jie Du.” [in Chinese] Qilu Xue Kan/Qilu Journal 4 (2007): 111–4.
Huntley, Paula. The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo New York: Penguin, 2004.
Miall, David S. “Episode Structures in Literary Narratives.” Journal of Literary Semantics 33 (2004): 111-29.
Deneau, Daniel P. “Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’.” Explicator 61 (2003): 210-13.
Cho, Ailee. “[Chopin and the Desire of Flight].” Nineteenth Century Literature in English 7 (2003): 119-34.
Johnson, Rose M. “A Rational Pedagogy for Kate Chopin’s Passional Fiction: Using Burke’s Scene-Act Ratio to Teach ‘Story’ and ‘Storm’.” Conference of College Teachers of English Studies 60 (1996): 122-28.
Koloski, Bernard. “The Anthologized Chopin: Kate Chopin’s Short Stories in Yesterday’s and Today’s Anthologies.” Louisiana Literature 11 (1994): 18-30.
Bender, Bert. “The Teeth of Desire: The Awakening and The Descent of Man.” American Literature 63 (1991): 459-73.
Miner, Madonne M. “Veiled Hints: An Affective Stylist’s Reading of Kate Chopin’s ‘Story of an Hour’.” Markham Review 11 (1982): 29–32.