“Madame Célestin’s Divorce” is Kate Chopin’s short story about a woman who consults a lawyer about divorcing her husband.
You can read the story online, although if you’re citing a passage for research purposes, you should check your citation against one of the accurate texts listed below.
In print you can find “Madame Célestin’s Divorce” in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, in the Penguin Classics edition of Chopin’s Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, 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.
- Madame Célestin
- Lawyer Paxton
The story takes place in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the late nineteenth century.
The subject of divorce in this story, as we explain in the questions and answers below, is of interest to readers. And readers wonder about sexual symbolism in Chopin’s use of a broom handle in the closing paragraph.
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 May 24 and 25, 1893, and first published in Bayou Folk, Chopin’s 1894 collection of short stories.
Q: Isn’t divorce an unusual subject for Kate Chopin?
A: No. The subject of divorce is central to Chopin’s first novel, At Fault. Divorce was a matter of much discussion in Kate Chopin’s time–in both America and Europe. In the 1880s the divorce rate in the United States was increasing more than twice as fast as was the rate of population growth.
Q: Why are there so many French expressions in this and some other Chopin stories? If I don’t understand French, how do I know what those expressions mean?
A: Many of the characters in Chopin’s stories speak French, Spanish, Creole, or all three, in addition to English. Many people with French and Spanish roots live in Louisiana, and some of them speak more than one language. Like Mark Twain and other writers of her time, Chopin was determined to be accurate in the way she recorded the speech of the people she focused on in her work. Some editions of the short stories (like the Penguin Classics editions of Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie and A Vocation and a Voice) 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.
Q: Am I wrong to find sexual symbolism in Chopin’s treatment of a broom in this story, especially in the last paragraph?
A: Kate Chopin is clever in her use of imagery–and in framing her closing paragraphs, witness “The Storm,” “The Story of an Hour,” “Désirée’s Baby,” and “A Respectable Woman.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.
Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. Edited by Bernard Koloski. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.
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.