Born this day in 1851: Kate Chopin (1851–1904), novelist and short-story writer best known for The Awakening, a frank novel about the sexual and artistic awakening of a young woman.
Kate Chopin was born Kate O’Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, and was educated in Catholic school. She knew both French and German and read widely European literature. She was also a very talented pianist. She moved to Louisiana after marrying Oscar Chopin, a New Orleans cotton broker, in 1870. The couple had six children.
After her husband’s death in 1882 she returned to Missouri and began supporting her family by writing. She wrote more than one hundred short stories, which appeared in publications such as Vogue and the Atlantic Monthly and were later collected in two volumes. For many of her stories she drew on the Creole and Acadian cultures she experienced during her years in Louisiana. She was sometimes lumped in with the “local color” writers, but her stories did not resort to the stereotypes or sentimentality typical of such a designation.
Her career pretty much came to a close with the publication of her second novel—and her greatest work. The public was scandalized by the sensual portrayal of a young wife’s artistic and sexual blossoming in The Awakening. Years after Chopin’s death the novel was rediscovered and given the recognition it deserved, not only for the writing itself, but for the early feminist themes it portrayed.
Read The Awakening and some short stories by Chopin, including “Desiree’s Baby,” for free here.
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