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Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Kate Chopin, 1851-1904

Chopin, Kate 1851-1904, Writer. Although Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin was a native of St. Louis (born 8 February 1851) and spent barely 14 years in Louisiana, her fiction is identified with the South. At 19, Kate O'Flaherty married Oscar Chopin, a young cotton broker, and moved with him to New Orleans and later to his family home in Cloutierville, La., near the Red River. After Oscar died in 1882, she returned with their six children to St. Louis; but when, eight years later, she began to write, it was the Creoles and 'Cadians of her Louisiana experiences that animated her fiction.

Distinctly unsentimental in her approach, she often relied on popular period motifs, such as the conflict of the Yankee businessman and the Creole, a theme that informs her first novel, At Fault (1890), and several of her short stories. These vivid and economical tales, richly flavored with local dialect, provide penetrating views of the heterogeneous culture of south Louisiana. Many of them were collected in Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie. Chopin's second novel, The Awakening (1899), also strongly evokes the region, but is primarily a lyrical, stunning study of a young woman whose deep personal discontents lead to adultery and suicide. Praised for its craft and damned for its content, the novel was a scandal, and Chopin, always sensitive to her critics, gradually lost confidence in her gift and soon ceased to write.

Chopin died of a brain hemorrhage after a strenuous day at the St. Louis World's Fair, where she had been a regular visitor. She was remembered only as one of the southern local colorists of the 1890s until The Awakening was rediscovered in the 1970s as an early masterpiece of American realism and a superb rendering of female experience.

[Note: Recent scholarship points to a birth year of 1850 for Kate Chopin. The Library of Congress Name Authority Heading for Chopin also reflects this view. — DocSouth Editors]

Barbara C. Ewell
Loyola University

Barbara C. Ewell, Kate Chopin (1986); Per Seyersted, Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography (1969); Peggy Skaggs, Kate Chopin (1985); Marlene Springer, Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin: A Reference Guide (1976).

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