miércoles, 3 de julio de 2019

Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin

(1850 - 1904)

Kate Chopin, born Katherine O'Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri on February 8, 1850, is considered one of the first feminist authors of the 20th century. She is often credited for introducing the modern feminist literary movement. Chopin was following a rather conventional path as a housewife until an unfortunate tragedy-- the untimely death of her husband-- altered the course of her life. She became a talented and prolific short story writer, influenced primarily by the French short story author, Guy de Maupassant. She is best known for her novel The Awakening (1899), a hauntingly prescient tale of a woman unfulfilled by the mundane yet highly celebrated "feminine role," and her painful realization that the constraints of her gender blocked her ability to seek a more fulfilling life. Many of her works are featured in our Feminist Literature - Study Guide

Commenting on the influence of Maupassant on her writing, Chopin wrote: 

"...I read his stories and marveled at them. Here was life, not fiction; for where were the plots, the old fashioned mechanism and stage trapping that in a vague, unthinkable way I had fancied were essential to the art of story making. Here was a man who had escaped from tradition and authority, who had entered into himself and looked out upon life through his own being and with his own eyes; and who, in a direct and simple way, told us what he saw.." [source: Jane Le Marquand, Deep South(1996)]

Chopin's settings for many of her stories is in north central Louisiana, many in Natchitoches. She published two significant short story collections; Bayou Folk in 1894, and then A Night in Acadie in 1897. She remains one of our favorite authors for her exceptional gift with words, use of irony, and range of evocative writing themes. Reader will find gems of her work in both collections, most of which are offered as links on the left of this page.

Some argue that modern feminism was borne on her pages, and one needs to look no further than her 1894 short story The Story of an Hour to support the claim. We encourage students and teachers to use our The Story of An Hour - Study Guide to better understand the work and its role in launching modern feminist literature. The reader should note the relationship of the leading figure in that story to the circumstances of Kate Chopin’s own life, where the death of her own husband started a process that would ultimately push her beyond the roles of wife and mother of six and on to the life of an artist. After The Story of an Hour, a reader would do well to balance the scale and turn their attention to a work that embraces rather than challenging conventional roles for women: Regret is a short story blessed with love and borne from a mother's heart.

Desiree's Baby (1893), and The Storm (1898), which is a sequel to her story At the 'Cadian Ball (1892), are also among her most celebrated short stories.

Chopin's writing career began after her husband died on their Louisiana plantation in 1882 and she was struggling financially. Her mother convinced Kate to move back to St. Louis, but died shortly thereafter leaving her alone. Now Chopin, suffering from the loss of her husband and mother, was advised by her obstetrician and family friend to fight her state of depression by taking up writing as a source of therapeutic healing, a way to focus her energy and provide Chopin with a source of income. She took the advice to heart.

By the early 1890s, Kate Chopin was writing short stories, articles, and translations which appeared in periodicals and literary magazines regionally based in St. Louis -- she was perceived as a "local color" writer, but her literary qualities were discounted. Her novel The Awakening, (1899) was considered too far ahead of its time; Chopin was discouraged by the literary criticism and that she had not been accepted as an author, so she turned to short story writing almost exclusively thereafter.

Chopin embraced a number of writing styles, taking into account her ancestry of Irish and French descent, and her years with Creole and Cajun influences in Louisiana. Slavery and women's rights were realities that she incorporated in many of her stories and sketches, portraying women in a less than conventional manner, with individual wants and needs. Perhaps in many ways autobiographical, her exploration of women's independence was not celebrated until many years later. Chopin was in many ways, a woman before her time.

Kate Chopin & her children
Readers interested in the feminist aspects of Kate Chopin's works will also wish to investigate plays and short stories from Susan Glaspell and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's semi-autobiographical sketch The Yellow Wallpaper.

But it would be a grave mistake to dismiss Chopin as exclusively "a feminist" writer. She was a first-class writer whose ability to raise life from a blank page knows few equals. Prepare your heart and your brain before reading Kate Chopin, she demands both.


The Awakening

Published in 1899, her novel "The Awakening" is often considered ahead of its time, garnering more negative reviews than positive from contemporary sources. Chopin was discouraged by this criticism, and would turn to writing short stories almost exclusively. The female characters in The Awakening went beyond the standards of social norms of the time. The protagonist has sexual desires and questions the sanctity of motherhood. The novel explores the theme of marital infidelity from the perspective of a wife. The book was widely banned, and fell out of print for several decades before being republished in the 1970s. It is now considered a classic of feminist fiction. Chopin reacted to the negative events happening to her by commenting ironically:
I never dreamt of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things and working out her own damnation as she did. If I had had the slightest intimation of such a thing I would have excluded her from the company. But when I found out what she was up to, the play was half over and it was then too late.
According to Bender, Chopin was intrigued by Darwin's The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. Though she agreed with the processes of evolution, Chopin however quarreled with Darwin's theory of sexual selection and the female's role, which can be exemplified in The Awakening, in which Bender argues that Chopin references The Descent of Man[27]. In his essay, Darwin suggests female inferiority and says that males had “gained the power of selection.” Bender argues that in her writing, Chopin presented women characters that had selective power based on their own sexual desires, not the want of reproduction or love. Bender argues this through the exemplification of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening, Mrs. Baroda in “A Respectable Woman,” and Mrs. Mallard in “The Story of an Hour.

In Martha Cutter's article, “The Search for A Feminine Voice in the Works of Kate Chopin,” analyzes the female characters in many of Chopin's stories. Cutter argues that Chopin's opinion of women as being “the invisible and unheard sex” is exemplified through the characterization of Edna in the Awakening. Cutter argues that Chopin's writing was shocking due to its sexual identity and articulation of feminine desire. According to Cutter, Chopin's stories disrupt patriarchal norms.

Critical Reception

Kate Chopin wrote the majority of her short stories and novels between the years 1889 - 1904. Altogether, Chopin wrote about a hundred short stories or novels during her time as a fiction writer; her short stories were published in a number of local newspapers including the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. A large number of her short stories were also published in national Magazines like Youth's Companion and Harper's Young PeopleBayou Folk was especially well reviewed, with Chopin even writing about how she had seen a hundred press notices about it. Those stories were published in the New York Times and the Atlantic. People particularly liked how she used local dialects to give her characters a more authentic and relatable feel. She also published two novels, At Fault and The Awakening. Her novels were not well received initially, compared to her short stories. Her 1899 novel The Awakening was considered to be immoral due to the overt themes of female sexuality, as well as the female protagonist constantly rebuking societal gender roles and norms. There have been rumors that the novel was originally banned, which has since been disproven. Local and national newspapers published mixed reviews of Chopin's novel with one calling it "poison" and “unpleasant”, continuing on to say it was "too strong a drink for moral babes", while another newspaper published a review calling the novel, "A St. Louis Woman Who Has Turned Fame Into Literature." The majority of the early reviews for The Awakening were largely negative. Emily Toth, one of her most well known biographers, thought she had gone too far with this novel. She argued that the protagonist, Edna, and her blatant sensuality was too much for the male gatekeepers. So much so that her next novel was even cancelled.

It wasn't until Per Seyersted, a Norwegian professor and scholar, rediscovered her almost 70 years later that the general public began to really appreciate her work as essential Feminist and Southern literature from the 19th Century. Seyersted wrote that she "broke new ground in American Literature." According to Emily Toth, Kate Chopin's work rose in popularity and recognition during the 1970s due to themes of women venturing outside of the constraints set upon them by society, which appealed to people participating in feminist activism and the sexual revolution. She also argues that the works appealed to women in the 1960s, "a time when American women yearned to know about our feisty foremothers"." Academics and scholars began to put Chopin in the same feminist categories as Louisa May AlcottSusan Warner, and Emily Dickinson. Parallels between Alcott and Chopin have been drawn to point out how both authors wrote about females who departed from their traditional roles by dreaming of or striving for independence and individual freedoms, also described as a dramatization of a woman's struggle for selfhood. A reviewer for Choice Reviews stated that it was ultimately a struggle doomed to failure because the patriarchal conventions of her society restricted her freedom. Karen Simons felt that this failed struggle was perfectly captured by the ending of the novel, where Edna Pontellier ends her life due to her realization that she cannot truly be both the traditional mother role and have a sense of herself as an individual at the same time but especially not during those times.

"Bayou Folk" Read "Bayou Folk"
"A Night in Acadie" Read "A Night in Acadie"
"At the Cadian Ball" (1892) Read "At the Cadian Ball"
"The Story of an Hour" (1894) Read "The Story of an Hour"
"Désirée's Baby" (1895) Read "Désirée's Baby"
"Emancipation: A Life Fable" Read "Emancipation: A Life Fable"
"The Storm" (1898) Read "The Storm"
"A Pair of Silk Stockings" Read "A Pair of Silk Stockings"
"The Locket"
"Athenaise" Read "Athenaise"
"Lilacs" Read "Lilacs"
"A Respectable Woman" Read "A Respectable Woman"
"The Unexpected" Read "The Unexpected"
"The Kiss" Read "The Kiss"
"Beyond the Bayou" Read "Beyond the Bayou"
"An No-Account Creole" Read "An No-Account Creole"
The Awakening, and Selected Short Stories
"Regret" Read "Regret"
"Madame Célestin's Divorce" Read "Madame Célestin's Divorce"
At Fault (1890), Nixon Jones Printing Co, St. Louis Read "At Fault"
The Awakening (1899), H.S. Stone, Chicago Read "The Awakening"

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