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Kate Chopin - Biography

Kate Chopin (1851-1904)
by Karen Bernardo

Kate Chopin is best known for her novella The Awakening -- if, in fact, she is 'known' at all. After her death, three generations of readers were to grow up never having heard of either Chopin or her most famous work. Considering her obscurity for most of the early twentieth century, it's hard to imagine that in the 1890s she was considered a promising writer of quaint, regional women's fiction. But everything changed when The Awakening hit the shelves in 1899.

Chopin's novel, frank in its treatment of adultery, infidelity, and a woman's sexual desires, was considered outrageously immoral by its late Victorian audiences. Her protagonist, the wife of a pleasant, well-to-do businessman, found her life arid and empty, and her imaginative nature allowed her desires to wander from the straight and narrow path of motherhood and domesticity. Readers of Chopin's day found her blunt treatment of a woman's sexuality very disturbing, because unlike much 'women's fiction' of that day, there is simply no other way of reading Chopin's meaning except sexually. Even more unthinkable was the novel's basic thesis: that women are not necessarily fulfilled by motherhood, and many find domesticity more of a prison than a haven.

The reaction to this one book was enough to eclipse not only the novel but the author's name for over half a century, and Chopin died in poverty five years after The Awakening was published. Ironically, this book, together with its author, was finally rediscovered in the 1960s and now forms a standard part of college literature classes, because its treatment of a woman's sexuality and self-discovery seemed so totally unique and unprecedented.

But was it really? Chopin's short stories made many of the same points that The Awakening did, and in fact if her fiction has a common 'theme', it is that marriage and monogamy is intrinsically repressive to a woman's spirit. We can examine Chopin's treatment of this theme, and its deeper ramifications, in her short stories 'A Respectable Woman,' 'The Story of an Hour,' and 'The Storm.'

Read Storybites' analysis of... 

The Awakening

The Story of An Hour

A Respectable Woman

The Storm 

All four Chopin stories reviewed on "Storybites" can be found in the collection "The Awakening: And Other Stories."

It is available in paperback from Amazon here:

"The Awakening" and "A Respectable Woman" are available as a Kindle download from Amazon here:

It is also available in paperback from Barnes and Noble here: