"Whatever we may do or attempt, despite
the embrace and transports of love, the hunger of the lips, we
are always alone. I have dragged you out into the night in the
vain hope of a moment's escape from the horrible solitude which
overpowers me. But what is the use! I speak and you answer me,
and still each of us is alone; side by side but alone.' In 1895,
these words, from a story by Guy de Maupassant called 'Solitude',
which she had translated for a St Louis magazine, expressed an
urbane and melancholy wisdom that Kate Chopin found compelling.
To a woman who had survived the illusions that friendship, romance,
marriage, or even motherhood would provide lifelong companionship
and identity, and who had come to recognize the existential solitude
of all human beings, Maupassant's declaration became a kind of
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O'Flaherty on February 8, 1850 of an Irish and French descent in St. Louis, Missouri. Kate was blessed by having many female mentors throughout her childhood; either the strong and independent widows in her family or the intellectual nuns of her school, who taught Kate to live a "life of the mind as well as the life of the home." Kate was a young age of five and a half when her parents sent her to the Academy of the Sacred Heart . Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was an Irish immigrant who was very successful in many business ventures. In 1855 on November 1, being one of the founders of the Pacific Railroad, her father was aboard the train on its inaugural journey over the Gasconade Bridge, which collapsed, killing many of its passengers. After only two months into her term at Sacred Heart, Kate came home and was to be educated by her great-grandmother. Eliza Faris O'Flaherty, Kate's mother, was a member of the prominent French-Creole community and a member of an exclusive social circle. Eliza was only 27 years old when she heard of her 50-year-old husbands' death. She may have been depressed, yet liberated by the news, or so Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour" suggests: "a wife, hearing of her husband's death in a train accident, delights in thoughts of freedom." Her mother was barely 16 years old when she married Thomas O'Flaherty; six months after his previous wife had died leaving him with a son, George. Eliza brought a social status to the marriage, having been the eldest of an "impoverished, but well established family" of seven children. Thomas, a "self-made man," brought money. Eliza never remarried after her husband's death. Kate's grandmother and great-grandmother had also been widowed at a young age and never remarried. "There were young aunts and uncles, cousins, and four slaves in the household, but the strongest individuals were the widows." Kate's great great grandmother and her husband had been the first legal separation ever granted in St. Louis. She learned to read and write, gave birth to another child whose father was unnamed, became a keelboat entrepreneur, and ultimately an eighteenth century tycoon. Kate, having lost two very important male figures at an early age, developed strong ties to her great-grandmother. Kate's grandmother, Madame Charleville, gave birth to fifteen children with her merchant husband, Joseph Charleville. She taught Kate not only about music, history, and speaking French, she also stressed the need to live life "clearly and fearlessly."
Two years after her fathers' death, Kate returned to the Academy of the Sacred Heart . Kate met a girl named Kitty Garesche. The two girls both loved to write and read together, but in May of 1861 the Civil War broke out in St. Louis, and Kitty's family was banished for their Confederate "sympathies." Not only did Kate lose her best friend, but also her half brother, George, died of typhoid fever and her grandmother passed away at the age of 83. Kate lost all of her brothers and sisters, so that by the time Kate was 24 years old, she was an only child. When she graduated from the Academy of the Sacred Heart, she was known as a brilliant storyteller, an honors student, a youthful cynic, and an accomplished pianist. After the war, Kate almost had a depressed manner and one of the nuns of the Academy recognized the creativity in this lonely child. The nun assigned her to write a Commonplace Book, which is the first document of Kate's writings. This Commonplace Book became a diary of her intellectual and social life.
At the age of 19, Kate met Louisiana native Oscar Chopin, a cotton broker, and married him on June 9, 1870. The last writings in her Commonplace Book are the diary of her 3-month European honeymoon. As was typical for a woman in her era, she doesn't mention sexual matters, yet she records the consummation of her marriage on June 12 in Philadelphia. The couple established their new home in New Orleans and awaits the birth of their first child, presumably conceived while honeymooning in France. When Oscar's brokerage business failed in 1879, he decided to move north to his family's plantations in Natchitoches Parish, and it was then that Kate became acquainted with the Creole community that became such an important focus of her writing. In 1882 Oscar contracted swamp fever and died from complications of the disease in January of 1883, leaving Kate to return to St. Louis with their six young children. A year later, Kate's mother also died and Kate, emotionally burnt out from the losses in her life, got comfort from a family physician, Frederick Kolbenheyer. He suggested that she start writing as a way of expressing her anger and disappointment with life. She needed to turn her writing into a way to support herself and her six children. She never actually was able to live off of her earnings from writing, but she supported her family with income from real estate she owned in Louisiana and St. Louis.
Kate wrote for many years and her popularity was extreme until critical disapproval of her novel, "The Awakening," poor health, and concerns about her family slowed her down. For a little over a decade, Chopin had been a nationally acclaimed writer. In the early 1890's, Chopin was hosting a literary salon, and her "Thursday's" were the place to be for anyone with a creative niche. Kate was also a member of women's groups. She joined the St. Louis Children of Sodality, and was also a charter member of the prestigious Wednesday Club, which she left when it became more structured, but it remained loyal to her. In 1899, when The Awakening had been condemned by most male reviewers, the Wednesday Club invited Kate to do a reading and over 300 women came to applaud and praise her. Contrary to rumors, the awakening was never banned, nor was Chopin ever denied membership in any literary societies. Copies of The Awakening were only taken off of St. Louis library shelves when they had worn.
On August 20, 1904, Kate spends a long day at the St. Louis World's Fair and suffers from a cerebral hemorrhage. On the 22nd, she dies and she is buried on the 24th of August 1904. So here we have seen, the life and death of a famous author; a story in its own.
Kate most definitely was the poem and the poet. She lived her life the way she wanted to and wrote what she felt, thought, and wanted to say. When asked about her writing and what she chooses to write about she says, "Certainly not everything I think about!"
" a pioneer in her own time, in her portrayal of women's desires of independence and control of their own sexuality" Is how Emily Toth describes Kate Chopin in her introduction of Kate Chopin's Private Papers. Many people felt that Kate foreshadowed future events in her writing like Per Seyersted, a 29 year old graduate student working on his M.A. at Harvard, when he said "How did she know all that in 1899?"
Kate Chopin wrote many different things in her short career as a writer. Her first work was a piano polka written for her daughter called, "Lilia's Polka." She began her story writing career in 1889 by publishing her first poem "If It Might Be", in a Chicago periodical called America. Later in 1889, Kate published her first two short stories, "Wiser Than God" and "A Point at Issue". In 1890, came her first novel, At Fault. The book was privately published and paid for by Chopin herself. It did receive many negative reviews because it involves women alcoholism and affairs. In 1890 Kate attempted to publish another novel titled Young Dr. Grosse. The novel was rejected many times by publishers and she eventually destroyed the manuscript in 1896. On January 4, 1893, Kate Chopin published what became one her most famous short stories, "Desiree's Baby," in Vogue magazine. The story, included in a short story collection the following year, follows the short marriage of Desiree who is abandoned as a baby and adopted and raised by a loving family. After she and her husband have a baby, and the baby has a dark complexion, her husband accuses her of being of black descent and makes her leave. The story ends with Desiree disappearing into the bayou with her baby. Ironically, only days after she leaves, the husband discovers a letter left to him by his mother which explains that it is he who is of mixed race. "Desiree's Baby" was later included in Bayou Folk, a collection of twenty-three stories and sketches published in 1894. Chopin next produced a twenty-one story collection, A Night in Acadie, published in 1897 which shows her growing interest in passion, sexuality and marriage. It also shows her "increased concern for the plight of women in 'Victorian-era America'" (May and Trosky 105). During the time that Kate was writing the stories included in A Night in Acadie, she wrote only one or two days a week; reserving most of her time for raising her children. Aside from her writing, she also held a literary salon at her home at 3317 Morgan Street in St. Louis. After A Night in Acadie's publication, Kate worked on third collection, A Vocation and a Voice, which included work previously rejected by magazine publishers. Publishers who felt the work dealt too explicitly with love, sex, and marriage rejected this collection. Included in this collection is Chopin's most famous short story, "The Story of an Hour," in which an ill woman learns of her husband's accidental death. The story examines the woman's reaction to her sudden and unexpected independence and ends surprisingly when she discovers her husband is actually alive. Even when the collection was rejected, Kate continued writing, and aside from her short stories she produced poems and submitted essays to several St. Louis periodicals. It was also during this time that she was working on what is now considered her masterpiece, The Awakening. Before publication of The Awakening, Chopin wrote another now-famous short story, "The Storm." "The Storm," about two lover's infidelity during a thunderstorm, shows Chopin's interest in passion and infidelity. The Awakening was published in 1899. This work was condemned in its time because of its sexual openness. It was rediscovered in the 1950s and has since received many accolades for the beauty of its writing and for its modern sensibility. With the stormy weather surrounding The Awakening, her editors decided to suspend publication of her third collection of stories, A Vocation and a Voice. The collection was not published until 1991, 87 years after her death.
Many of the people who visited Kate Chopin's literary "Thursday's" and belonged in her social circle, were newspaper people. Editors and founders of many newspapers including one's from Reedy's Mirror, St. Louis Life, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Globe-Democrat and the Republic. She was reviewed often in the papers and many of her first stories appeared initially in daily papers. Her very first short story, "A Point at Issue!", was accepted and printed in the Post-Dispatch on October 27th, 1899. "Mrs. Mobry's Reason", a story that hinted at venereal disease, was rejected more than a dozen times before the New Orleans Times-Democrat accepted it in April 1893. "Odalie Misses Mass," the odd story of an interracial friendship between an old black woman and a young white girl, first appeared in the Shreveport Times. Chopin occasionally wrote newspaper prose. Early in her career, she sold four translations to the Post-Dispatch and later she wrote a series of essays for the St. Louis Criterion.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Susan B. Anthony Lucy Stone Sojourner Truth
Links to works by Chopin
Chronology of Kate Chopin's Life
Photos of Kate
List of Works Cited
Interviews about Kate provided by PBS
Kate Chopin gets inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame, May 20th, 1990
Ann Bail Howard provides this link to A Woman Far Ahead of Her Time
Southern Literature : Women Writers By Patricia Evans
French Creoles in Louisiana: An American Tale by Harriet J. Bauman
History of Woman Suffrage in the United States brought to you by the The Women's History Project of Lexington Area National Organization for Women
A Timeline of the Women's Rights Movement 1848 - 1998 from The National Women's History Project