Many of the questions and answers on this page also appear at other places on this site. You can follow links to those places, where you’ll find related information.
Questions about Chopin’s personal life
About Chopin’s reputation and popularity
About Chopin’s French connections and expressions
Chopin’s attitude toward race and death
Chopin’s style, influences, and translations
Copyright protection of Chopin’s work
A biographical question with a recent answer
New Questions about this website
Q: What was Kate Chopin’s name before she was married?
A: She was baptized Catherine O’Flaherty, although everyone called her Kate. Her father was Irish.
Q: How do you pronounce “Chopin”?
A: In the French way, like that of the composer, Frédéric Chopin–in English, something like SHOW-PAN. As written in the International Phonetic Alphabet: /ˈʃoʊpæn/.
Q: An American literature professor I met told me that Chopin Anglicized her name and it should be pronounced “CHOP-in,” rather than like the French composer. I haven’t been able to confirm this. Is that professor right?
A; No. Kate Chopin’s fiction is read today around the world in English and in translations into twenty-some other languages, so “Chopin” and the names of the characters in her stories are no doubt pronounced in lots of different ways. But claiming that Kate Chopin herself Anglicized her name is a different matter. Here is what some Chopin scholars and Chopin’s descendants have to say.
Emily Toth, Kate Chopin’s biographer: “I would defer to the family on this one for the final word. I’ve never heard any pronunciation other than SHOW-PAN—except from a few English professors (a devilish breed! :)) who somehow think they know better. But Dave Chopin [Kate Chopin’s grandson] for one, assured me that it is/was SHOW-PAN.
“There would be no incentive for Chopin to Anglicize her name, as she lived among French speakers (in Louisiana) and many people who were French or of French descent in St. Louis. Besides, who would choose a ridiculous pronunciation that sounds like chopping wood, when you’ve got a beautiful, flowing French word?
“I would add—Trust primary sources, and don’t trust random English professors.”
Barbara Ewell, Kate Chopin scholar: “I’m with Emily on this: SHOW-PAN remains the pronunciation of the name whenever I’ve encountered it in New Orleans. But the family should have the last say.”
Gerri Chopin Wendel, one of Kate Chopin’s great-granddaughters (a daughter of David Chopin): “I can’t imagine it ever being pronounced any way other than SHOW-PAN, which we have always known. The thought of it being Anglicized is horrifying!”
Annette Chopin Lare, another of Kate Chopin’s great-granddaughters (also a daughter of David Chopin): “Emily is correct. The name has always been pronounced in the French way. It’s pronounced SHOW-PAN. We grew up hearing our parents constantly correct people and have spent the better part of our lives doing the same. That said, anyone familiar with classical music always got it right. This wasn’t just in our immediate family. Aunts, uncles, cousins always pronounced it in the French way.”
Tom Bonner, Kate Chopin scholar: “I’m with Emily and the family. Perhaps the English professor has a hearing issue.”
Finally, Susie Chopin, still another of Kate Chopin’s great-granddaughters (and also a daughter of David Chopin): “When anyone asks about the pronunciation of my name, my standard answer is ‘It looks like CHOP-IN, but it’s pronounced SHOW-PAN.’ Yet our name has been mispronounced all our lives and you have to learn not to sweat the small stuff.
“Call me CHOP-IN, call me CHO-PIN, call me SHOW-PIN. But never, ever tell me that my own name is really not pronounced SHOW-PAN. Thems be fightin’ words, folks.”
Q: Was Kate Chopin French?
No, she was American. But her mother’s family was of French descent. And she married a man whose father was French.
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 United States 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. You can read a brief description of her life on our Biography page.
Q: The Kate Chopin biography I’m reading spells Catherine with a “K.” Why is there this difference?
A: There’s not much of a difference. “Catherine” and “Katherine” would likely be pronounced the same in English, but “Kate” is what Chopin was called by her family and friends. It’s common in the States and other English-speaking places for a woman named Catherine to be referred to with the one-syllable Kate rather than the longer Catherine. Because “Cate” would be puzzling to most English readers, we have “Kate” — and therefore, in the longer form, “Katherine.”
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: I was wondering where in Missouri Kate Chopin was born and where in Missouri she lived while she wrote her fiction.
A: According to Emily Toth in her biography Unveiling Kate Chopin, Catherine O’Flaherty was born in 1850 in St. Louis on Eight Street between Chouteau and Gratiot. The family in 1865 moved to 1118 St. Ange Avenue in St. Louis.
When Kate returned to St. Louis in 1884 after her years in Louisiana, she lived first at 1125 St. Ange Avenue and then at 1122 St. Ange Avenue. In 1886 she moved to 3317 Morgan Street, which in now Delmar. In 1903 she moved to 4232 McPherson Avenue (the house is still there), where she died in 1904.
Kate Chopin’s home at 4232 McPherson Avenue in St Louis as it looks today.
Q: I understand that Chopin had several children. What are their names?
A: Between 1871 and 1879 Kate Chopin gave birth to five sons and a daughter — in order of birth, Jean Baptiste, Oscar Charles, George Francis, Frederick, Felix Andrew, and Lélia (baptized Marie Laïza).
Q: Did Kate Chopin speak French as well as English?
Q. My literature anthology says that Kate Chopin’s mother was Creole. Does that mean that Chopin has African-American roots?
A. No. In American English, the word “Creole” (the noun form of the word) carries several different meanings. For Kate Chopin, the following definition applies (it’s from the Merriam Webster online dictionary): “a white person descended from early French or Spanish settlers of the United States Gulf states and preserving their speech and culture.”
Q: I believe Kate Chopin visited Paris in 1870 but did not stay very long. Do you have more details about her visit?
A: According to Chopin’s Commonplace Book, as published in Kate Chopin’s Private Papers (Indiana University Press, 1998), Chopin and her husband arrived in Paris sometime between the 27th of August and the 4th of September, 1870, while France was at war with Prussia. They left the city on the 10th of September of that year. So Chopin was in Paris somewhere between one week and two weeks. She did not visit Europe again.
Q: I’m reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I’ve just met Simon Legree. I’ve read somewhere that Simon Legree was modeled after the father of Oscar Chopin, Kate Chopin’s husband. Do you know if this is true or just rumor?
A: Here is what Emily Toth says in her 1990 biography of Kate Chopin: “Local folklore confused [Dr. Chopin, Oscar Chopin’s father] with Robert McAlpin, who had owned the land before him and who was sometimes said to be the model for Simon Legree in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” So the connection between Oscar Chopin’s father and Simon Legree is rumor, not fact.
You may want to read Chopin’s early novel, At Fault. It includes a chapter in which two characters visit Robert McAlpin’s grave.
Q: Is Chopin, the unincorporated community in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, named after Kate Chopin?
A: Emily Toth, Kate Chopin’s biographer writes, “Ha! I’ve got the answer. Chopin, Louisiana, was named by and for Lamy Chopin, the brother of Oscar Chopin, Kate Chopin’s husband. Lamy (pronounced LAH-mee) was the landowner and major person in the area, and so he named the spot (which was just a post office) after himself.
“Lamy had an entrepreneurial streak. He’s also the one who got an old cabin on his land exhibited at the 1893 World Fair’s as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’
“Gossip, but not necessary to answer this question: Lamy’s widow Fannie was the major source for Daniel Rankin [Kate Chopin’s first biographer], even though she’d barely known Kate and was a little Alzheimerish by the time she met Rankin [in the late 1920s or early 1930s]. Some of Lamy’s descendants are in and around Baton Rouge. One is or was an Episcopal priest.”
Q: Was Kate Chopin’s The Awakening forgotten until her literary revival in the 1970s?
A: Yes, in general it was forgotten, although a few people in Europe and the United States were familiar with the book throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Some of Chopin’s short stories, however, were not forgotten. Several of those stories appeared in an anthology within five years after her death, others were reprinted over the years, and scholars began writing about her fiction a decade or so before it caught fire with the appearance of her Complete Works in 1969.
Q: I am writing my capstone project about Kate Chopin and I am trying to establish the relevance of her works to the contemporary reader. Do you have any idea of the number of copies of Chopin’s novel The Awakening purchased last year? I have done several Internet searches to no avail. I would like to reference the number as evidence that readers are still buying and discussing this powerful novel.
A: We’re sorry, but we have no way to tell how many copies of The Awakening were purchased last year. Part of the difficulty is that there are so many editions of the novel available, both as an individual book and as part of an anthology, both as a novel alone and as a novel along with short stories or supplements, both in print and in electronic form (some electronic editions can be downloaded for free), both in English in the United States and other English-speaking countries (Canada, the UK, India . . .) and in translations into twenty-some other languages sold in countries around the world. Bookstores and websites list at least a hundred editions.
So we cannot count how many copies are sold. And even if we could count purchases for an individual year, we would not know precisely how widely people are reading and discussing the book, because many books that are purchased—by libraries, for example — are passed from one person to another and read many times over a period of years, and, of course, some books that are purchased or downloaded are not read at all.
However, there are other ways to get a sense of whether readers are still discussing Kate Chopin’s novel.
This website usually averages about a thousand visits a day during the academic year from people in dozens of countries — from students like you, but also from teachers, scholars, librarians, journalists, playwrights, filmmakers, translators, book club members, bloggers, and others. We assume those visitors are reading and discussing The Awakening, in part because they send us all sorts of questions about it and about short stories that Chopin wrote, questions like those on this page and on other pages of this site.
Also, it’s possible to judge the popularity of a book by the extent to which it is transformed into other media — into plays, films, music, etc. We seek to keep track of some transformations.
Still another way is to see if books and articles about the book and the book’s author are being published and if graduate students are writing PhD dissertations about the book and its author. We include on our site nine pages that list books, articles, and PhD dissertations in English, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Finally, it may be helpful for you to know that according to scholars at Columbia University who examined over eight million university syllabi, The Awakening is among the most often taught American novel in English courses.
In brief, although we do not have data to show how many copies of the novel were sold last year, we think it would be accurate for you to say in your capstone report that, over a hundred years after The Awakening appeared, “readers are still buying and discussing” it.
Q: Was Kate Chopin involved in the women’s suffrage movement, in the progressive movements for educational reform, health care reform, or sanitation improvement? Was she involved in any other historically significant happenings of her time?
A: Kate Chopin was an artist, a writer of fiction, and like many artists — in the nineteenth century and today — she considered that her primary responsibility to people was showing them the truth about life as she understood it.
So if you’re asking if Kate Chopin was involved in social activism as political scientists today would understand that term, the answer is no. She was not a social reformer. Her goal was not to change the world but to describe it accurately, to show people the truth about the lives of women and men in the nineteenth-century America she knew.
If, however, you’re asking if Chopin was involved in “historically significant happenings” as many artists would understand those words, then the answer is yes. She was among the first American authors to write truthfully about women’s hidden lives, about women’s sexuality, and about some of the complexities and contradictions in women’s relationships with their husbands.
As the critic Per Seyersted phrases it, Kate Chopin “broke new ground in American literature. She was the first woman writer in her country to accept passion as a legitimate subject for serious, outspoken fiction. Revolting against tradition and authority; with a daring which we can hardy fathom today; with an uncompromising honesty and no trace of sensationalism, she undertook to give the unsparing truth about woman’s submerged life. She was something of a pioneer in the amoral treatment of sexuality, of divorce, and of woman’s urge for an existential authenticity. She is in many respects a modern writer, particularly in her awareness of the complexities of truth and the complications of freedom.”
Artists like Kate Chopin see the truth and help others to see it. Once people are able to recognize the truth, then they can create social reform movements and set out to correct wrongs and injustices.
Q: So does that mean that what I read on a blog is true, that Kate Chopin “was an integral part of the evolution of feminism, providing early 20th century readers with feminist literature that is still highly respected and studied today”?
A: No, it’s almost certainly not true, simply because, from everything we can tell, little of what many readers today consider Chopin’s feminist literature was read in the early years of the twentieth century — The Awakening, for example, or “The Story of an Hour,” or, certainly, “The Storm.” You might argue that after the 1960s or 1970s Chopin became “an integral part of the evolution of feminism,” but she probably had little or no influence on early 20th-century readers.
Q: Did Kate Chopin influence other writers or artists? Does she influence any today?
A: After the 1970s, when a remarkable literary revival made her work famous around the world, Chopin became an inspiration for artists of all kinds—women and men—as well as for translators working in twenty-some other languages.
You can see some of the influence she has had on our News page, our Popular Culture page (dealing with dance, theatre, opera, graphic fiction), our Films page, pages for The Awakening and some short stories (like “The Story of an Hour”), and our page for Translations.
And there is Eliza Waite, a 2016 novel. Ashley E Sweeney, the novel’s author, tells us that “Eliza Waite reads/internalizes Chopin’s thoughts; Eliza refers to short stories and other works of Chopin’s, including The Awakening, which plays a significant role in her life as the novel progresses. Early feminism and enlightenment during nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century America are strong themes of the novel, let alone survival in a man’s world on the far reaches of the continent.”
Q: Why are there French expressions in Chopin’s novels and stories?
A: Most of the characters in Kate Chopin’s short stories and in her two novels, The Awakening, and At Fault, speak French, Spanish, Creole, or all three, in addition to English. Many people with French and Spanish roots lived in Louisiana, where most of Chopin’s works are set, and some of them spoke more than one language. Like Mark Twain and other writers of her time, Chopin, who spoke both French and English herself, was determined to be accurate in the way she recorded the speech of the people she focused on in her fiction. Some editions of her works include translations of French expressions, and Chopin usually subtly glosses such expressions in the text. Missing the meaning of a French expression is not likely to lead to a mistake in understanding a story or novel.
Q: What about the Creole or other dialectal expressions? I love Kate Chopin, but at places in the short stories, I really struggle with understanding what her characters are saying. How do I deal with that?
A: You might try reading the stories aloud — or you might find a native speaker of English who can read them aloud with feeling. Chopin is capturing what her characters sound like as they speak, so it may be helpful to hear the story, rather than read it.
For example, here’s a passage from an early Chopin story in which a caretaker at a plantation is talking to a visitor. The caretaker says that he himself would not be complaining about how run down the place has become:
“If it would been me myse’f, I would nevair grumb’. W’en a chimbly breck, I take one, two de boys; we patch ‘im up bes’ we know how. We keep on men’ de fence’, firs’ one place, anudder. . . .”
If you could hear that read aloud, you might understand better. In today’s standard English, the character would be saying something like:
“If it would [have] been me myself, I would never grumble. When a chimney breaks, I take one or two [of] the boys; we patch it up [the] best we know how. We keep on mending the fences, first [at] one place [and then at] another. . . .”
New Q: Has anyone written about Kate Chopin and her relationship to Haiti? I understand she is of French Creole ancestry but do any of those ties relate to Creoles from Haiti?
A: Two Kate Chopin scholars respond.
Thomas Bonner, Jr. suggests checking Karen Kel Roop’s dissertation at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2011: “‘You done cheat Mose out o’ de job, anyways, we all know dat’: Faith Healing in the Fiction of Kate Chopin.” [Haiti is cited]
He also suggests checking the Annotated Bibliography of Voodooism in Haiti by Michelle Brown, online 10/23. [Chopin is cited]
And he adds: “Online there is a thesis by Kali Lauren Oldacre at Gardner-Webb University in 2016, which may deal with Haiti as it links Chopin, Hurston, and Danticat. Also there are some online blogs mentioning Chopin and Haiti, but there are questions of authority here. The Haitian revolution 1791 to 1804 brought many migrants to New Orleans, and by the time Kate moved to New Orleans in 1870, those migrants and their descendants were long established locals.”
John Staunton writes: “This same question just came up among some of my students earlier in the semester. It led us to what looks like a student website project (which by the way, is pretty well done. Kudos to the instructor guiding these curators).
“There we got a quick answer: No, the Creoles in The Awakening are not the same as those from Haiti. But I could tell that they were rather disappointed and unsatisfied by that instability of terms.
“It’s a really interesting interpretive phenomenon, and in part I think it comes out of their wondering about Edna’s displacement as a kind of racial (as well as ethnic) displacement.”
Q: I understand some critics fault Kate Chopin for her attitudes toward race. Where could I find discussions of that subject?
A: There’s been a good deal written about Chopin and race. You might start by reading articles by Anna Shannon Elfenbein, Helen Taylor, and Elizabeth Ammons in the Norton Critical Edition of The Awakening, and you might look at Bonnie James Shaker’s Coloring Locals. For a defense of Chopin you might start by checking Emily Toth’s Unveiling Kate Chopin and Bernard Koloski’s Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction, and on line you could read David Chopin’s and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese’s comments on the Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening site. You can find information about these and other publications about Chopin and race at the bottom of the Awakening page and the Short Stories page of this site, as well as on pages devoted to individual stories, like “Désirée’s Baby.”
Q: I know that Chopin dealt with a lot of deaths to loved ones growing up. Do many of her writings involve the death of a character? Are these writings available?
A: In addition to famous stories like “The Story of an Hour” and “Désirée’s Baby” and the novels At Fault and The Awakening, here are fifteen short stories in which the subject of death comes up (listed in order of composition):
“For Marse Chouchoute”
“The Maid of Saint Phillippe”
“Doctor Chevalier’s Lie”
“The Return of Alcibiade”
“La Belle Zoraïde”
“At Chênière Caminada”
“A Sentimental Soul”
“Odalie Misses Mass”
“Dead Men’s Shoes”
“Madame Martel’s Christmas Eve”
Yes, all of Kate Chopin’s works are available in the books listed near the bottom of most pages on this site; both her novels and many of her stories are posted on the web.
Q: I find it difficult to find the right terms for describing Kate Chopin’s style, which I think has some romantic elements but also some realistic ones. In what ways was Chopin influenced by other writers, like Maupassant?
A: Chopin read widely and drew from many movements in nineteenth-century literatur — romanticism (she had read Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson), realism (she reviewed a book by Hamlin Garland) and local color (she places her characters in a geographical and historical moment and details their sometimes exotic speech patterns and cultural dispositions). She mentions German philosopher and playwright Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in her work as well as other European writers from Aeschylus to Ibsen. She was deeply influenced by French writers Guy de Maupassant (she loved his economy of detail) and Émile Zola (she was impressed by his determination to tell the truth), both of whom she read in their original French. She understood that Maupassant and Zola rejected sentimental fiction, but she was drawn to the work of the French writer George Sand who at times used sentimental elements to describe a woman trying to balance the well-being of others with her own freedom and integrity.
Q: Do you know if Chopin read Charles Baudelaire, and if so, whether she read Les Fleurs du Mal? Did she own a copy of this book?
A: We’re aware of no direct evidence that Kate Chopin read Charles Baudelaire. Everything we know about what Chopin read is described by her three biographers. You’ll find titles of their biographies at the bottom of our Biography page. In searching for possible influences on Chopin, it’s best to start with the biographers. So far as we can tell, no additional primary material about Chopin (such as evidence about whom she read) has emerged in recent years.
Q: What about Alphonse Daudet? Did she read Daudet?
A: Yes, apparently she did. Her friend William Schuyler published an article about her in Writer in August, 1894, in which he says she read both Guy de Maupassant and Daudet. Chopin’s biographer Per Seyersted notes that in her fiction she resembles Daudet, who in his work “looked at least as much for goodness and happiness as for misery.”
“One reason why Daudet spoke to Mrs. Chopin,” Seyersted adds, “was his seductive style infused with the meridional warmth, the sunny, sensuous atmosphere of his Midi [Daudet loved his native Provence, in southern France]. She had herself responded to the luxurious southern fragrance of Louisiana and to the erotic ambiance of her Gauls.”
We don’t know when she might have read Daudet, but she had been reading French fiction since she was a child. She and her husband were in Europe in 1870, shortly after Daudet published his famous collection of stories Les Lettres de mon moulin [Letters from my Mill]. Some of those stores had been published earlier in French newspapers and magazines which were available in the States.
Chopin’s later biographer Emily Toth points out that in 1878 Daudet published Le Nabob, a novel “about a woman artist who believes herself to be monstrously different, because she defies the rules of traditional society.” The artist’s name, Toth notes, is Félicia Ruys, “an unpronounceable name too much like Reisz [Mademoiselle Reisz, the pianist in The Awakening] to be an accident.”
Q; I am currently doing research on Kate Chopin to complete a thesis on one of her short stories. I have come across a few brief statements suggesting a connection between her and Edgar Degas. I have also noticed that a few of her characters share the same names as some of Degas’ family members. I was wondering if you might be able to assist me with more concrete evidence that would establish a link?
A: Two Chopin scholars respond:
Emily Toth: In my Unveiling Kate Chopin (chapter 5), I write about the Chopin-Degas connection. Oscar Chopin did work with Degas’s brother and uncle, and the plot of The Awakening reflects events in France that Degas knew about. The Awakening also reflects, clearly, a scandalous adulterous affair in the Degas family. There are similar names and circumstances, and it’s apparent that Chopin drew on Degas and his family for gossip and inspiration. Christopher Benfey’s work (Degas in New Orleans: Encounters in the Creole World of Kate Chopin and George Washington Cable) is not accurate, and he misreports what I wrote. He’s a good writer, but no one should take him as a source for facts. He is often just plain wrong.
Thomas Bonner, Jr.: I agree with Emily. The real crux of the Chopin-Degas connection is a multitude of clues, including Chopin’s use of the term “Impressionist,” but no document or recorded observation has been discovered as yet. The term Impressionist as applied to artists and art did not have a reported use until 1874, after Degas had left New Orleans. Benfy bases his conclusions about Kate and Degas on conjecture. It would be helpful one day to discover a thank you note from Kate to Degas (or from Degas to Kate) for a fine dinner.
Q: Do you know if Kate Chopin read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”? I have not found evidence that she read it.
A: Chopin scholars David Wehner, Heather Ostman, and Kelli O’Brien write that they have found no evidence that Chopin had read Gilman.
Thomas Bonner, Jr.: “The story was published in the New England Magazine in 1892 and then in a book in 1899. The St. Louis Public Library had a limited collection until its expansion in 1901. The magazine was obviously regionally centered with a largely regional circulation, and the collected story did not get published prior to the writing of The Awakening. Given that data and the lack of documentation of Chopin’s reading the story or mentioning Gilman, it would be hard to demonstrate that Chopin read Gilman despite some thematic confluences in their writing.”
Barbara Ewell: “I don’t remember any evidence for this either: however, I do seem to recall that Gilman spoke in St. Louis when Chopin was there.”
Emily Toth: “Like the others, I’ve never seen any evidence that Chopin read Gilman. That doesn’t mean that she didn’t, but just that we have no evidence.”
Eulalia Piñero Gil: “Good question. I don’t have evidence that she read Gilman, as Emily says, but I perceive the literary dialogue or the spirit of the age that most female writers of the period show in their texts. In other words, we might suggest that as a voracious reader she might have read the short story, as Gilman was a famous lecturer of the period.”
Bonnie Shaker: “As one who studies periodicals, I have also wondered about this. Not only does ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ predate The Awakening, but it circulated in a periodical. However, as Eulalia suggests, there may be other ways to reconstruct a history of influence besides precise evidence of exposure to a singular text.”
Tom Bonner, again: “Based on a letter Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote, she was in St. Louis sometime in January 1899 on a lecture tour. With her story in New England Magazine (1892) and in the book (1899), it is possible that Chopin could have had access to the book, much less likely to a regional periodical. It is also possible that Chopin met Gilman in St. Louis at one of several lecture sites. Like Chopin, Gilman was reluctant about the term feminist, but strong on issues affecting women. Harvard University’s archive lists 67 documents related to Charlotte Perkins Gilman that have St. Louis references.”
Q: Kate Chopin didn’t write very much, did she — two novels and some short stories?
A: Chopin’s career was cut short by her early death in 1904. But in 1952, Van Wyck Brooks, one of the first modern critics to rediscover Chopin’s work, wrote in The Confident Years: 1885–1915 that The Awakening is a “small perfect book that mattered more than the whole life-work of many a prolific writer.” He adds that the novel is mature and “so effortless . . . so composed in its naturalness and grace.”
Q: I’ve read lots of nineteenth-century “local color” stories describing rural life in many regions of the United States. But Kate Chopin’s stories about the Creoles of Louisiana are unusual. Chopin’s Creoles do not behave at all as I would expect characters in local-color fiction to behave. What makes these Creoles and the stories about them so different?
A: Nina Baum has an insightful explanation. “Because they were Catholic, Continental, and tropical — rather than Protestant, British, and temperate — these people [the Creoles] offered certain unique opportunities to the regional chronicler,” she writes.
“They represented not only a past that was quickly fading away, but a present that America had never chosen to embrace. Their lives could be presented as more pleasure-oriented, more easy-going, more gracious, and more sensuous than those of the mainstream Americans who would in all probability be reading about them.
“And while they were rural, they still had a European sophistication which might well be beyond that of the average American; where most local color characters were more primitive than the assumed reader, the Creole was in many ways more sophisticated.”
Q: How can I find out when Kate Chopin wrote her stories and novels and where those works were first published?
A: You can check our page about when Kate Chopin wrote each of her short stories and when and where each was first published. And you can check our Awakening and At Fault pages for information about those novels.
Q: Your site lists articles about Chopin’s work written in languages besides English. Have people also written books about Kate Chopin in other languages?
A: Yes. Here is Kate Chopin: Ruptures [in French] by Marie-Claude Perrin-Chenour (2002):
If you know of additional books about Kate Chopin written in languages other than English, would you contact us?
Q: Our publishing house in Belgrade, Serbia, is planning to publish a Serbian translation of The Awakening. Since it is going to be the first Serbian translation of this novel, we would like to complete the edition with Kate Chopin’s portrait. Can you refer us to the institution that can provide us a print-quality picture of Kate Chopin?
A: Most photographs of Kate Chopin are housed in the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can order print-quality photos at the museum site.
Q: A friend of mine has written a sequel to “Désirée Baby” and she is considering publishing it. Would doing that violate any of Ms. Chopin’s copyrights or the rights of any organization that may hold copyrights on Ms. Chopin’s work? Since copyrights can be a tricky thing I thought that I would contact you and ask for your advice and help on this matter.
A: “Désirée’s Baby” and almost all the rest of Kate Chopin’s works, including The Awakening, are in the public domain. Only a few stories — those first discovered and published in the 1960s — are not. The best known of the still-copyrighted works is “The Storm,” which is controlled by the Louisiana State University Press in Baton Rouge.
So your friend is free to do as she wishes with “Désirée’s Baby” and almost anything else Chopin wrote except “The Storm” and a few other stories. If you’re concerned about a different Chopin work, get back to us and we’ll be happy to check on its status.
Q: I’m the editor of a forthcoming anthology. I very much hope to include Kate Chopin’s marvelous “The Story of an Hour” in this collection of short-short stories and mini-essays. Is “The Story of an Hour” in the public domain, or, if not, whom may I contact to seek permission to use it?
A: “The Story of an Hour” is in the public domain. As we note, “it was written on April 19, 1894, and first published in Vogue on December 6, 1894, under the title ‘The Dream of an Hour.’ It was reprinted in St. Louis Life on January 5, 1895.” So you need no permission to reprint it.
May we, however, suggest that you use our accurate, downloadable, printable text of the story, because, as we explain, there are two different versions of the story, and those versions have different meanings.
Q: You say that the information on this website is “accurate.” You say that over and over. Why do you insist so much?
A: Because some of what appears on websites and blogs discussing Kate Chopin and her work is misinformation or speculation. For example: Some say that Chopin was born in 1851 (she was born in 1850). Some say that because Kate Chopin’s mother was Creole, she had African-American roots (not true). One claims that Chopin was “tortured and socially restricted” (there is little evidence of that). Some say that The Awakening was banned in St. Louis libraries when it first appeared (there is no evidence of that). Some say that readers were scandalized by “The Story of an Hour” when it was published (there is no evidence of that, either). . . . And the texts of some of Kate Chopin’s stories on some websites have errors in them.
We don’t claim to be always correct, but we check information carefully with specialist scholars before we post it. If we make a mistake, we correct it as soon as someone tells us about it. We try our best to not mislead you. If you find an error on this website, would you contact us?
New Q: “The Story of an Hour” page on this website has so many words on it! Why don’t you add some pictures or videos or podcasts?
A: Sorry to hear you are disappointed in that webpage.
We explain on “The Story of an Hour” page what our readers over the past 20 years have been asking us about. Our readers are students, teachers, librarians, journalists, playwrights, filmmakers, translators, book club members, bloggers, podcast hosts, and other people in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Philippines, India, China, Brazil, and dozens of other countries around the world.
On “The Story of an Hour” page and our other pages devoted to one of Kate Chopin’s short stories or novels, we describe in lots of short paragraphs what our readers have wanted to know. About 25% of our readers are not native speakers of English. So we try to answer their questions in English that is easy to understand.
We include at the top of a page like that a list of red links so our readers can get quickly to what exactly it is they need to know.
But you might try looking at some other pages on our site: Our page, for example, where you can watch three short films based on Kate Chopin’s stories. Or our page in which we link to a video where you can listen to a song Kate Chopin wrote. Or our page in which we link to a podcast where you can hear specialists talk about Kate Chopin’s stories. Or our News page in which you will find lots of images and colors.
Q: Can anyone help with the identity of Mrs. F. M. Estere of 4434 Laclede Avenue of St. Louis and her possible connection with Kate Chopin?
A: We’ve recently received a response to this question. Many thanks to Ms. Clark:
I am a genealogist and was intrigued by the question. Here is what I was able to find out in just a couple of hours of Internet research…..
I believe the woman is Mrs. F. M. Estes (Francis “Frank” Marion Estes). He was a lawyer who practiced at that address. This was his second wife. They married in 1896 in St. Louis. Her name was Nellie Hancock Stockton (1870-1943) She was born in Texas. They had one son, Stockton. Frank died in 1909. He had many investments so his wife never wanted for money after his death. She actually left the country in 1910 and went to Buenos Aires until about 1912. She moved to New York after that. She left the country again in 1918 and returned in 1921. Her son was traveling with her at this time as he is listed on the ship’s manifest. Frank had two children from his first marriage, Francis M. Jr, and Grace.
Kate’s house on Morgan Street was several blocks away from the Estes home on Laclede Ave. Her home on McPhearson was much closer. It is possible they were in the same social circles. Frank was a well-known lawyer and was the council on several important St. Louis cases. It is possible he represented Kate at some time.
I hope this information sheds some light on Kate’s friends.
The following questions deal with Chopin’s two published novels, The Awakening and At Fault, and with her short stories.
Questions about The Awakening
Questions about At Fault
Questions about “The Story of an Hour”
Questions about “The Storm”
Questions about “At the ‘Cadian Ball”
Questions about “Désirée’s Baby”
Questions about “A Pair of Silk Stockings”
Questions about “A Respectable Woman”
Questions about “Athénaïse”
Questions about “A No-Account Creole”
Questions about “A Point at Issue!”
Questions about “A Vocation and a Voice”
Questions about “Beyond the Bayou”
Questions about “Charlie”
Questions about “Fedora”
Questions about “Her Letters”
Questions about “Lilacs”
Questions about “Madame Célestin’s Divorce”
Questions about “Ripe Figs”
Questions about “The Kiss”
Questions about Chopin’s other short stories
A question about Chopin’s “Vagabonds”:
Q: Where might I find articles about Chopin’s “Vagabonds”? Do I understand correctly that it is a fragment? I read “Vagabonds” in the Library of America collection and just felt that it was an uncanny and a beautifully suggestive piece of writing, pointing straight to the heart of modernism. Bierce? Stephen Crane? It just seems to come out of nowhere.
A: So far as we can tell, the story is complete, although it’s an unusual Kate Chopin story, in part because it’s written in the first person. According to our databases, there are only two articles about that story:
Dyer, Joyce. “‘Vagabonds’: A Story without a Home.” Louisiana Literature 11.1 (1994): 74–82.
Arner, Robert D. “Characterization and the Colloquial Style in Kate Chopin’s ‘Vagabonds.’ ” Markham Review 2 (1971): 110–12.
A research library should be able to find you these two articles. You might also want to search our database for books dealing with Chopin’s short stories and then check the indexes of those books for references to “Vagabonds”:
You can contact us with other questions about Kate Chopin works.