“Her Letters” is Kate Chopin’s short story about the husband of a woman who dies before she can destroy letters written to her by her lover.
Read the story in a PDF
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
A new film based on the story
New All of Kate Chopin’s short stories in Spanish
An article about the story
Books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
You can read the story and download it in our accurate, printable, and searchable PDF file, which is based on The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006). 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.
In print you can find “Her Letters” in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, in the Penguin Classics edition of Chopin’s A Vocation and a Voice, and in the Library of America Kate Chopin volume, as well as in other paperback and hardcover books. For publication information about these books, see the section “For students and scholars” near the bottom of this page.
- Unnamed woman
- Unnamed man, the woman’s husband
The story takes place in an unnamed city, apparently in the late nineteenth century. Because Chopin describes the man walking across “the bridge that spanned the river–the deep, broad, swift, black river dividing two States,” she was probably thinking of St. Louis, where she was living when she wrote the story, and she is probably referring to the famous Eads Bridge, completed in 1874, which spans the Mississippi River at St. Louis.
As we explain in the questions and answers below, readers often wonder about where Kate Chopin got the idea for this story and why she did not give names to the characters. Some people find resemblances between the woman in this story and Edna Pontellier in The Awakening.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
The story was written on November 29, 1894, and published in Vogue on April 11, 18, 1895, one of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Vogue published. Chopin apparently intended the story to be included in her third collection of stories, to have been called A Vocation and a Voice, but the volume was for unknown reasons cancelled by the publisher and did not appear as a separate volume until 1991.
Q: Do scholars know what inspired Chopin to write this story?
A: Emily Toth writes in her 1999 Chopin biography that Carrie Blackman, a woman whom Chopin considered “woefully unballanced” may have inspired it. Chopin dedicated a poem to Blackman, whose “loveliness,” Toth says, “her air of secrecy, and her paintings of women also seem to have inspired” the story.
Mary Papke in Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival notes that Chopin wrote the story in the same year as she translated Guy de Maupassant’s short story “A Divorce Case.” This story and other Maupassant stories that Chopin translated, Papke argues, describe “intensely disturbed states of mind, what the characters themselves refuse to admit may be sociopathological states of being but in some cases clearly are.”
And there may have been other inspirations. Émile Zola describes a woman with a secret lover in his novel Lourdes, published in 1894. Chopin reviewed the novel a few days before she wrote “Her Letters.”
Q: Why didn’t Kate Chopin give names to these characters?
A: “Why” questions are tough to answer. Scholars rarely understand exactly why artists do what they do. But Barbara Ewell writes that in “Her Letters” the characters’ anonymity deepens the “sense of mystery and distance, which intensifies in the ironic contrast between our intimate perspective on the woman and the misperceptions of her character by her husband and closest friends.”
Q: Chopin’s Awakening describes Edna Pontellier living a “dual life.” Isn’t the woman in this story also doing that?
A: Yes, although Chopin says that Edna “apprehended instinctively the dual life–that outward existence which conforms, the inner life which questions.” But for the woman in “Her Letters,” as for Adrienne Farival in “Lilacs,” Bernard Koloski writes, “two separate existences are ‘outward.’ They are hidden from each other and incompatible–but they are lived, not only imagined, as are Mrs. Mallard’s reveries [in “The Story of an Hour”] or Edna Pontellier’s adolescent fantasies about romantic men.”
A New Film Based on “Her Letters”
New York filmmaker Amanda Lin Costa has written, directed, and produced a contemporary film adaptation of Kate Chopin’s short story “Her Letters.”
The executive producer of the film, Karla S. Bryant, tells us:
“I leave this package to the care of my husband. With perfect faith in his loyalty and his love, I ask him to destroy it unopened.
“These two lines, written over a century ago by Kate Chopin, were the catalyst for Amanda Lin Costa’s vision for a short film. Remaining faithful to the story, the contemporary setting emphasizes the timeless qualities of the themes of love, doubt, suspicion, and despair. In keeping with Kate Chopin’s astute eye for subtle detail, the film is rich in visuals and moments which capture a multitude of emotions.”
“Once the post-production work is finished on the film,” Ms. Bryant adds, “our plan is to enter it in several quality film festivals and explore future distribution venues. A percentage of funds raised will support New York Women in Film and Television. We believe this is a strong project which highlights the uncompromising creativity of Kate Chopin, presented as a film to a wider audience.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
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.
The article is available online through many university or public libraries.
Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew. “In Possession of the Letter: Kate Chopin’s ‘Her Letters’.” Studies in American Fiction 30.1 (2002): 45-62.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
Robert L. Gale. Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009.
Beer, Janet, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather, ed. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
Walker, Nancy A. Kate Chopin: A Literary Life Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.
Koloski, Bernard. “Introduction” Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie by Kate Chopin New York: Penguin, 1999.
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.
Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction New York: Twayne, 1996.
Petry, Alice Hall (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.
Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.
Perspectives on KateChopin: Proceedings from the Kate Chopin International Conference, April 6, 7, 8, 1989 Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State UP, 1992.
Toth, Emily. “Introduction” A Vocation and a Voice New York: Penguin, 1991.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton New York: Greenwood, 1990.
Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Elfenbein , Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1989.
Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
Bonner, Thomas Jr., The Kate Chopin Companion New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Kate Chopin New York: Chelsea, 1987.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey New York: Appleton-Century, 1936.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.