gigatos | February 3, 2022
Kate Chopin, born Kate O”Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri on February 8, 1850 and died in St. Louis on August 22, 1904, was an American novelist. Of Irish and French Creole origin, she is the author of many short stories and two novels known for their atmosphere tinged with Creole culture, but her work is best known for being a precursor to the feminist works of the twentieth century.
Kate Chopin”s father, Thomas O”Flaherty, is an influential businessman from the Galway region of Ireland. Her mother, née Eliza Faris, was a member of a French family from St. Louis. His maternal grandmother, Athénaise Charleville, was descended from a French-Canadian family. Some of her ancestors were among the first European immigrants to settle on Dauphin Island.
Kate”s father died in 1855, during the inaugural trip of the Pacific Railroad of which he was a founder, when a bridge built over the Gasconade River, a tributary of the Missouri River, collapsed. That same year, Kate, then 5 years old, was sent to Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in St. Louis.
After her father”s death, Kate”s relationship with her mother and great-grandmother grew stronger. She developed a strong interest in fairy tales, poetry and religion, but also in classic and contemporary novels. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens were among her favorite authors.
1863 was a tragic year for the O”Flaherty family; Kate”s great-grandmother and her half-brother, George, died. George O”Flaherty enlisted in a Confederate mounted infantry regiment and died of typhoid fever in a prison camp in Little Rock, Arkansas. That same year, Kate left school, which allowed her to immerse herself in her reading.
In 1865, she re-entered the Catholic Academy of the Sacred Heart from which she graduated in 1868 without having really distinguished herself in any subject, but having developed a talent for narration.
As a teenager, Kate Chopin belonged to the high society of St. Louis where she was known for her eloquence and practical knowledge of music. It was during a trip to New Orleans that she met a fiercely independent actress and singer who had a strong influence on her. Her time in New Orleans inspired the short story Emancipation: A Life Fable. It was during this period that she questioned the authority of the Catholic Church regarding the role of women.
Kate married Oscar Chopin on June 9, 1870 in St. Louis. She joined the French Creole community in the city. They honeymooned in Germany, then in Switzerland and finally in France before returning to the United States in a hurry when the Franco-German war broke out.
For the next ten years, the couple lived at 1413 Louisiana Avenue in New Orleans and Oscar worked as a middleman in the cotton trade. During this decade, Kate had five sons and one daughter, but maintained an active social life. Grand Isle, a seaside resort on the Gulf of Mexico, became a summer vacation spot for the Chopin family. It was at this time that Kate”s independence blossomed and she began to stroll the streets of the town alone – a practice largely frowned upon for a woman at the time.
Blows of fate
In 1879, Oscar”s cotton resale business failed and the Chopin family moved to Cloutierville in Natchitoches Parish on the Red River to manage several small plantations and the village store. It was here that Kate Chopin gained the experience of black and Creole life that she later wrote about in two volumes of stories: Bayou Folk (1894), from which the short story Desiree”s Baby is taken, and A Night in Acadia (1897), as well as in the novel The Awakening (1899). Their home, located at 243 Highway 495 and built by Alexis Courtier in the early 19th century, is now a National Historic Landmark and home to the Bayou Folk Museum.
Oscar died of typhoid fever in 1882, leaving Kate with debts of $12,000 at the time ($229,360 today). Kate tried to manage the plantations and the store on her own, without success. Eventually she entered into a relationship with a married farmer.
Her mother then convinced her to return to St. Louis with her children to end her financial problems. Her mother died the following year.
Kate has a nervous breakdown and her doctor suggests writing as therapy. She takes his advice and regains her interest in literature.
Career as a writer
In the late 1890s, Kate wrote short stories, articles, and translations of Guy de Maupassant”s works that were published in magazines, including the Saint Louis Dispatch. She was classified as a regionalist writer, but the literary qualities of her work were not recognized.
In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening, was published. As soon as it was published, it was criticized for its infringement of the moral prohibitions of the time concerning female sexuality and was not republished for several decades. It is now recognized as a precursor novel of feminist works of the twentieth century. The Awakening is sometimes considered the American Madame Bovary. It is known to the French public for having been published under the title Edna (from the name of the main heroine) and in a translation by Cyrille Arnavon by the Club Bibliophile de France in the early 1950s. Under the title L”Éveil, a new translation by Claire Bajan-Banaszak was published in 1983, followed by another by Michelle Herpe-Voslinsky, in 1990, by Liana Levi. The latter has been republished several times since.
Kate Chopin was discouraged by the reception of her novel and was content to write short stories thereafter. In 1900, she wrote the short story The Gentleman from New Orleans and her name appeared the same year in the first edition of Marquis Who”s Who. Despite the success of her short stories, she was never able to make a living from her art and earned her income from investments made in Louisiana and St. Louis.
She died in 1904 at the age of 54 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She is buried in St. Louis and is listed on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.