Reading and Studying Kate Chopin’s Short Stories
One of Kate Chopin’s last published short stories (“Polly”) appeared in this issue of the Youth’s Companion, a popular children’s and family magazine, in 1902.
Today all of Kate Chopin’s stories are in print and are easily available in published anthologies. Many of them are also available online. Among her most famous stories are several that have pages devoted to them on this site. The five most popular stories are listed here in the order they are most often discussed by students, teachers, scholars, critics, and other readers:
These stories are also popular among scholars, critics, students, and other readers:
“At Chênière Caminada”
“A No-Account Creole”
“A Point at Issue!”
“A Vocation and a Voice”
“At the ‘Cadian Ball”
“Beyond the Bayou”
“Madame Célestin’s Divorce”
Kate Chopin’s children’s stories are becoming popular among scholars, critics, students, and other readers:
These links will take you to more information about Kate Chopin’s short stories.:
Reading Kate Chopin’s short stories online and in print
Characters and settings in the short stories
When the stories were written and published
Films based on the stories
Questions and answers
Two recent translations of Chopin stories
Accurate texts of the stories
Articles and book chapters about specific Chopin short stories
Articles and book chapters about Chopin’s subjects and themes
Selected books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
The stories in Chopin’s anthologies, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, along with some other stories are available on Donna Campbell’s site at Washington State University. Some of Kate Chopin’s stories are not yet online. If you’re citing a passage of an online text for research purposes, you should check your citation against one of the accurate texts listed below.
In print you can find almost all the stories in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin and in the Library of America Kate Chopin volume. Kate Chopin’s Private Papers publishes a few stories that scholars discovered in recent years. The Penguin Classics edition of Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie includes the stories Chopin published in those collections, and the Penguin Classics edition of A Vocation and a Voice includes stories which, according to her early biographer, Daniel Rankin, Chopin had hoped to publish in a third collection. Some stories are available in paperback and hardcover editions of The Awakening and some in countless general short story anthologies and high school and college textbooks.
For publication information about these books, see the section “For students and scholars” near the bottom of this page.
You can find on the web page for the Library of America Kate Chopin volume a list of which stories Chopin included in Bayou Folk and a Night in Acadie and which she did not included in those anthologies. The LOA web page also explains the difficulty in understanding which stories Chopin had hoped to include in A Vocation and a Voice.
Most of Kate Chopin’s short stories are set in the late nineteenth century in Louisiana, often rural Louisiana. Most of the characters, like most of the people living in Louisiana at the time, are Creoles, Acadians, “Americans” (as the Creoles and Acadians call outsiders), African Americans, Native Americans, and people of mixed race. Except for some of the Creoles, most of the characters are terribly poor, because the area has yet to recover from the devastation of the Civil War.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site, and on the page for a specific story you can see what some readers consider the story’s theme or principal subject.
Kate Chopin composed her hundred or so stories between 1889 and her death in 1904. Most were published in her lifetime in national and regional magazines and newspapers, including Vogue, the Youth’s Companion, the Century, and the Atlantic Monthly. A few of the stories were syndicated nationally. Twenty-three of them were included in her collection, Bayou Folk, published by Houghton Mifflin in Boston in 1894, and twenty-one others in A Night in Acadie, published by Way and Williams in Chicago in 1897. A third collection, to have been titled A Vocation and a Voice, was canceled by Chopin’s publisher without explanation and did not appear as a separate volume until 1991.
IMDb.com, the Internet Movie Database, includes a filmography of works based on Kate Chopin’s fiction. The listing includes at least nine films–long and short–made between 1956 and 2014.
Q: Why are there so many French expressions in some of Chopin’s 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: Did Kate Chopin herself speak French as well as English?
A: Yes. Her mother’s family was of French stock, and Kate grew up bilingual.
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 someone 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. . . .”
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 an anthology within five years after her death, others were reprinted over the years, and important scholars were writing about her fiction for decades before it caught fire with the appearance of her Complete Works in 1969.
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 feminist readers.
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 literature—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.
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 Kate Chopin and Bernard Koloski’s Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction, and on line you could read 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, as well as on pages devoted to individual stories, like “Désirée’s Baby.”
Q: How can I find out when Kate Chopin wrote her stories and where those works were first published?
A: Composition dates and publication dates for Chopin’s works appear on pages 1003 to 1032 of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006). You can also find out when Kate Chopin wrote each of her short stories and when and where each was first published.
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 the characters? 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.
A 2011 Brazilian Translation of Kate Chopin Short Stories
We received this message from Beatriz Viégas-Faria, a professor at the Universidade Federal de Pelotas in Brazil:
“I’m writing to let you know about a new book with translations of twelve of Kate Chopin’s short stories that launched on June 20, 2011, in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
“Each of the twelve short stories (in the original English and in Brazilian Portuguese) is followed by two essays–one from a PhD in literature and one from a medical professional (psychiatrists and/or psychoanalysts and one specialist in public health, a nationally renowned fiction writer).
“Other features of the book: one essay presents the translations and the translation process, another presents the literary importance of the short stories, and another presents the importance of Kate Chopin as an example of how literature can help qualify and make more human the relation between a medical doctor and a patient. There is also a text written by two of the translators on Kate Chopin’s life and work.”
“Launching night in Porto Alegre was a big success,” Beatriz Viégas-Faria adds, “with more people than seats for the dramatic reading of ‘A Pair of Silk Stockings’ by actress/professor Mirna Spritzer (the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul). And then we signed books until 10 PM, when the book store closed.
“That was June 20, and then on Sept. 16, in São Paulo, we had another session of book signing, and actress Cris Nicolotti (stage and TV actor from São Paulo) was in charge of the dramatic reading of that same story. We had a good crowd attending, so we again had people lining up to have their books signed.
“On Oct. 27, in Caxias do Sul (state of Rio Grande do Sul, again), we’ll have yet another book signing session, with dramatic reading by a local actor. And then on Nov. 10, the book signing is scheduled to take place in the traditional and nationally renowned (57-year-old) Book Fair of Porto Alegre. This fair is absolutely packed with people for its 15 days of duration, and every year it opens on the last Friday of October. Our famous Feira do Livro, with its typical outdoor stands under the Spring blossoms, rain or shine, opened every year, even during the times of censorship during the political regime of military dictatorship in our country.”
A 2011 French Translation of Kate Chopin Short Stories–With a Different Emphasis
Éditions Interférences in Paris published in 2011 a new translation of Kate Chopin short stories. The volume is titled Le Sorcier de Gettysburg, and the translations were done by Marie-Anne de Kisch.
The foreword to the volume notes that “at the end of the nineteenth century, in a Louisiana still traumatized by the Civil War, [Kate Chopin] described with subtlety and even audacity the contradictions and ambiguities of the female soul. In Le Sorcier de Gettysburg, as in Une Nuit en Acadie, there is another aspect of her work on display. Although women maintain an important place in the stories, the principal characters this time are Louisiana and its inhabitants.”
The book includes translations of eighteen Chopin stories, arranged in this order: “The Maid of Saint Phillippe,” “A Wizard from Gettysburg,” “Ma’ame Pélagie,” “The Locket,” “The Return of Alcibiade,” “Mrs. Mobry’s Reason,” “A Visit to Avoyelles,” “The Lilies,” “Mamouche,” “Polydore,” “Dead Men’s Shoes,” “Loka,” “The Bênitous’ Slave,” “Old Aunt Peggy,” “Nég Créol,” “Vagabonds,” “Ripe Figs,” and “A Reflection.”
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969, 2006.
Kate Chopin’s Private Papers. Edited by Emily Toth, Per Seyersted, and Cheyenne Bonnell. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. Edited by Bernard Koloski. New York: Penguin, 1999.
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.
You can find recent publications about some of Kate Chopin’s more widely discussed stories by clicking on a story at the top left of this page.
Bonner, Jr., Thomas. “New Orleans and Its Writers: Burdens of Place.” Mississippi Quarterly 63. 1–2 (2010): 95-209. Discusses “Desiree’s Baby” and “A Matter of Prejudice.”
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. Discusses “The Story of an Hour,” “Désirée’s Baby,” “Beyond the Bayou,” “Ma’ame Pélagie,” and “A Matter of Prejudice.”
Hebert-Leiter, Maria. “The Awakening Awakened.” In Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke, 57–78. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2009. Discusses “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” “A Gentleman of Bayou Teche,” “Ozème’s Holiday,” “A Rude Awakening,” “In Sabine,” and “The Storm.”
Frederich, Meredith. “Extinguished Humanity: Fire in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Godmother’.” Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. 105-118. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Johnsen, Heidi. “Kate Chopin in Vogue: Establishing a Textual Context for A Vocation and a Voice.” Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. 53-69. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Kornhaber, Donna, and David Kornhaber.. “Stage and Status: Theatre and Class in the Short Fiction of Kate Chopin.” Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. 15-32. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Liu, Hongwei. “Lun li huan jing yu xiao shuo Jue xing de ju jue yu jie shou.” Foreign Literature Studies/Wai Guo Wen Xue Yan Jiu 30.6 (Dec. 2008): 71-75.
Edwards, Bradley C. “Allusion and the Evolution of Artistry in Kate Chopin’s ‘A Wizard from Gettysburg’ and ‘After the Winter’.” American Literary Realism 39.2 (Winter 2007): 138-149.
Tritt, Michael. “Kate Chopin’s ‘Cavanelle’ and The American Jewess: An Impressive Synergy.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Cultures 59.3-4 (2006 Summer-2006 Fall 2006): 543-557.
Batinovich, Garnet Ayers. “Storming the Cathedral: The Antireligious Subtext in Kate Chopin’s Works.” Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. 73-90. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Castillo, Susan. “‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Kate Chopin’s Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 59-72. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Horner, Avril. “Kate Chopin, Choice and Modernism.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 132-146. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Joslin, Katherine. “Kate Chopin on Fashion in a Darwinian World.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 73-86. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Knights, Pamela. “Kate Chopin and the Subject of Childhood.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 44-58. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Taylor, Helen. “‘The Perfume of the Past’: Kate Chopin and Post-Colonial New Orleans.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 147-160. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Thrailkill, Jane F. “Chopin’s Lyrical Anodyne for the Modern Soul.” Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. 33-52. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
Toth, Emily. “What We Do and Don’t Know About Kate Chopin’s Life.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 13-26. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Worton, Michael. “Reading Kate Chopin Through Contemporary French Feminist Theory.” The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. 105-117. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Zaugg, Brigitte. “Kate Chopin and Ellen Glasgow: Between Visibility and Oblivion.” Résonances 10 (Oct. 2008): 179-202.
Koloski, Bernard. “Kate Chopin: The Critics, the Librarians, and the Scholars.” Popular Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and the Literary Marketplace. 451-465. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2007.
Bloom, Lynn Z. “The Dinner Hours.” CEA Critic: An Official Journal of the College English Association 69.1-2 (2006-2007 Fall-Winter 2006): 3-13.
Johnson, Steven K. “Uncanny Burials: Post-Civil War Memories in Chopin and Bierce.” ABP Journal 2.1 (Fall 2006).
Pierse, Mary S. “Paris as ‘Other’: George Moore, Kate Chopin and French Literary Escape Routes.” ABEI Journal: The Brazilian Journal of Irish Studies 8 (June 2006): 79-87.
Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. “Searching for Emily Hahn on the Streets of St Louis.” History Workshop Journal 61 (Spring 2006): 214-221.
Witherow, Jean. “Kate Chopin’s Dialogic Engagement with W. D. Howells: ‘What Cannot Love Do?’.” Southern Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the South 13.3-4 (2006 Fall-Winter 2006): 101-116.
Despain, Max and Thomas Bonner, Jr. “Shoulder to Wings: The Provenance of Winged Imagery from Kate Chopin’s Juvenilia Through The Awakening.” Xavier Review 25.2 (2005): 49-64.
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. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather. 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.
Shaker, Bonnie James. Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s Youth’s Companion Stories Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2003.
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.
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.
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, 1994.
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.
Lohafer, Susan, and Jo Ellyn Clarey, eds. Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.
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.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.