Kate Chopin: Writing Style
Each authors' writing is unique. Kate Chopin, a writer of the late 19th Century, wrote about feelings. She insinuated that women had a sexual appetite and craved independence. Which made her stories taboo in her time period. She was one of the first feminist writers though that wasn’t her intention. She just wrote life as she saw it.
From a young age, Kate was a curious person. Kate was the only child of her siblings to live past the age of 25 (Wyatt). Kate’s writing was shaped by the events her life, like the deaths of many of the people close to her. Her father, Thomas O’Flaherty died from a train accident when she was 5 years old (Toth 9). After the death of her father, she grew up in a home run by women. Her great grandmother, Madame Charlesville, took a special interest in Kate and taught her French and how to play the piano. She also taught her about the lives of women, about how “women are torn between duty and desire” (Toth 13). She also taught Kate “not to judge people rashly, but to face truths fearlessly” (Toth 14). The greatest lesson she taught Kate was that a woman had to be independent (Toth 15). Her great grandmother died at age 83 when Kate was 12. Soon after, her brother George died of typhoid fever (Toth 26).
During the American civil war, Kate’s dearest school friend, Kitty Garesché had been thrown out of St. Louis after the Union soldiers confiscated her mother’s home. Kitty was sent to New York with her brothers and sisters to live with their aunt while Kitty’s mother worked her way to South Carolina to reunite with her husband (Toth 28, 29). During Kate’s teen years, her first teacher died, her bother died, her best friend had moved away, and German soldiers raided her home. It is unknown whether or not Kate was sexually abused by the soldiers, but “she behaved as adolescent victims of abuse do: she withdrew and hid”. She spent most of her time in the attic reading, writing, and thinking. She particularly enjoyed reading Sir Walter Scott (Toth 31).
Eventually she went back to Sacred Heart and graduated. Kitty moved back to St. Louis in time for both of the girls to make their debut to society. But tragedy fell upon Kitty. Instead of going to parties, Kitty mourned the death of her father (Toth 45). From the very beginning, Kate thought that being a debutant and going to parties was a joke. After 3 years, she met Oscar Chopin and married him June 9, 1870 (Toth xiii). They spent their honeymoon traveling to Europe and by the time they got back, Kate was expecting her first child (Toth 61). She gave birth to five boys and one girl (Toth 84). In 1884, Oscar Chopin died (Toth 92).
Kate took charge of the finances and was left a debt of more than 12,000 dollars (Toth 93). She continued to run Oscar’s business and plantation and sold all the possessions she could spare until 15 months later, she settles the debt (Toth 94). In 1884 Kate moved back in with her mother only to have her die about a year later (Toth 100, 102). Kate turned to writing to support her family (Wyatt). Her first published poem was called, “If It Might Be” published in a Chicago magazine called America (Toth 107). Throughout life, Kate continues to write and get published by various magazines.
Her best-known work is called The Awakening. “The Awakening was received with indignation when it appeared in 1899. Critics averred that Chopin was a pornographer and that her novel was immoral and even perverse” (“Katherine Chopin”). “Of course, Chopin's novel was not entirely without its supporters. A critic for the New York Times Book Review, for example, noted Chopin's skill in exploring her subject and confessed, "pity for the most unfortunate of her sex." But reviews such as this were rare in the overwhelmingly negative dismissal of the novel” (“Katherine Chopin”). “Chopin was understandably despondent over the reception accorded The Awakening”(“Katherine Chopin”). Over the next several years she continued to write short stories and eventually stopped writing all together with her last published work, “Polly” (Toth xvii). In 1902 at the St. Louis World’s fair, she collapses with a cerebral hemorrhage and dies two days later (“Katherine Chopin”).
According to Elizabeth Fox-Genovese:
Kate Chopin is one of the earliest examples of modernism in the United States. She was interested in the “perspective, point of view, craft, use of imagery, multiple perspectives” just as much as the story it’s self. She suggest that the reason Kate’s stories were so “short was because she was self-consciously experimenting with stylistic concerns every bit as much as thematic ones”. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese also said “Kate was neither a feminist or a suffragist”. “Her lack of interest in feminism and suffrage did not have to do with a lack of confidence in women nor did it have a lack to do with a lack of any desire for freedom. She simply had a different understanding of freedom. She saw freedom as much more a matter of spirit, soul, character of living your life within the constraints that the world makes [or] your God offers you” (Jhirad).
One of Kate Chopin’s influences was a French writer named Guy de Maupassant. The difference was, “Chopin's objective psychological realism, her emphasis on character rather than plot, her striving for economy and unity, and her distinct amorality.” “Maupassant undoubtedly provided inspiration for her own creative spirit, his themes and techniques being clearly evident in her work but "...with her independent spirit and her personal views she stood entirely on her own"” (Le Marquand).
Conclusively, Kate Chopin is known to be the first feminist writer and a woman ahead of her time. Even though during her time she was looked down upon for the things she wrote, she is celebrated and acclaimed by people around the world.
Jhirad, Anna Reid. Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening. PBS. 1998. 16 Oct. 2008.
“Katherine Chopin”. Contemporary Authors Online. Gale. 16 Oct. 2008. <http://infotrac.galegroup.com.libdb.dccc.edu/itw/infomark/564/193/45933240w16/
Le Marquand, Jane. “Kate Chopin as Feminist: Subverting the French Androcentric Influence.” Deep South 2.3 (1996). 9 Mar. 2004. <http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/vol2no3/chopin.html>
Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
Wyatt, Neal. “Biography of Kate Chopin”. VCU.edu. 1995. Virginia Commonwealth University. 28 Nov. 2008. <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng384/katebio.htm>