Kate Chopin (born Katherine O’Flaherty on February 8, 1851) grew up in St. Louis, Missouri in a prominent, wealthy, and intellectually inclined family. Her father, Thomas O’Flaherty, was an Irish immigrant who became successful as a businessman and her mother, Eliza Faris O’Flaherty, was born to a distinguished St.
Louis family and was known for her intelligence and education. Chopin was close with her mother and maternal great-grandmother, who introduced her to French Creole culture and her French-Creole relatives in Louisiana.
Chopin had five younger brothers and half-brothers. Unfortunately, her father died in a train accident when Chopin was only five years old. Her widowed mother then raised the children with the support and assistance of her extended French-Creole family.
How many siblings did Kate Chopin have?
Chopin had 5 younger brothers and half-brothers. Her father died when she was only 5 years old and her widowed mother raised Chopin and her siblings with the help of extended family.
Early Education and Influences
Chopin attended an academy run by Sacred Heart nuns from ages 5 to 18, where she studied writing, grammar, theater, and music – skills that would serve her future writing career. Growing up, Chopin was strongly influenced by great women such as her maternal grandmother and great-grandmother and became passionate about women’s roles, music, culture, and intellectual life.
As a young woman, Chopin read extensively across diverse subjects from religion to science, which broadened her intellectual horizons. Some key influences on her writing style and topics were French feminist writers like George Sand, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and survival of the fittest, the realist writing style characterized by accurate depictions of contemporary customs and social norms, and her own Creole French-Catholic heritage.
What academy did Kate Chopin attend growing up?
From ages 5-18, Chopin attended an academy run by Sacred Heart nuns. This education in writing, grammar, music, and other liberal arts served Chopin’s eventual career as a writer.
Table: Influences on Kate Chopin’s Writing Style and Topics
|Evolution, survival of the fittest
|Realist literary movement
|Accurate depiction of customs and norms
|French Creole culture
|Chopin’s maternal heritage
Marriages and Family Life
In 1870, at age 19, Kate Chopin married Oscar Chopin, a wealthy New Orleans cotton broker and merchant. They settled in New Orleans, where Kate focused on being a wife and mother. Between 1871 and 1879, Kate gave birth to six children, though only five lived past early childhood.
By most accounts, the Chopins had a loving and happy marriage. They were well-matched and both liked music, cultural events, traveling, and entertaining. But Oscar’s business, hit hard by the difficult economic conditions of the 1870s, went bankrupt in 1879. Despite financial struggles and Oscar’s worsening health problems, they chose to stay committed to their marriage.
How many children did Kate Chopin have in her marriage to Oscar Chopin?
Kate Chopin gave birth to six children between 1871 and 1879, though only five of them lived past early childhood.
In 1881, Oscar’s cotton brokerage failed completely and he died of malaria. At age 32, Kate Chopin found herself a widow and single mother of six children (only five living).
Why did Kate Chopin’s husband Oscar Chopin die in 1881?
In 1881, Oscar Chopin died of malaria. His cotton brokerage business had failed and the difficulties led him to have worsening health problems.
Turning Points: Widowhood, Motherhood and Writing Career
After Oscar’s death, Kate Chopin returned to her hometown of St. Louis, where she moved in with her mother for financial and emotional support. During this period, she struggled through immense grief, single motherhood, and financial responsibility for her children.
Seeing writing as a possibility for income, Chopin began sending essays, short stories, and sketches to periodicals and literary magazines. She was first published in 1889 with the poem “If It Might Be” and saw publication of her first short story, “Wiser than a God” in 1889 as well.
In 1890, her physician suggested that she begin writing as a therapeutic distraction from melancholy and depression over her circumstances. This marked a major turning point, as Chopin began writing more consistently and moved towards writing as a vocation and artistic outlet through which she would eventually achieve literary fame.
What two literary works marked Kate Chopin’s first publications?
Chopin’s first publications were the poem “If It Might Be” in 1889 and the short story “Wiser than a God” also published in 1889.
Major Literary Works and Themes
Kate Chopin went on to write over 100 works of fiction and non-fiction during her prolific writing career.
Her short stories, many depicting women’s struggles with freedom, identity, societal expectations, and human relationships, were published in literary magazines like Atlantic Monthly as well as two collections called Bayou Folk in 1894 and A Night in Acadie in 1897.
Some of Chopin’s most famous short stories exploring moral, societal, and even feminist themes include:
- “Desiree’s Baby” – racism and miscegenation in the antebellum South
- “The Story of an Hour” – female identity and independence
- “The Storm” – women’s sexuality and married life
Name 3 major short stories Kate Chopin wrote known for their insightful themes:
- “Desiree’s Baby”
- “The Story of an Hour”
- “The Storm”
Her first novel At Fault, released in 1890, tackled forbidden topics like divorce and alcoholism with insight about human relationships and morality.
But Kate Chopin’s magnum opus or key major work is her second novel, The Awakening, published in 1899. With emotional depth and stylistic artistry, Chopin depicts her female protagonist, Edna Pontellier, and her psychological self-awakening as she faces tensions between social proprieties and conventions and her increasingly intensified inner desires for freedom, agency, and self-hood.
Table: Comparison of Two Major Kate Chopin Novels
|Realist novel with symbolist inflection
|Divorce, alcoholism, morality
|Freedom, identity, self-actualization
|Discontented married woman
|Contemporary 1890s Louisiana
|Late 19th century Victorian era
|One of first novels to tackle taboo topics directly
|Considered an early American feminist novel and Chopin’s best artistic work
The Awakening’s publication originally provoked controversy and unease for its relatively explicit content on female sexuality and rejection of traditional roles. Nonetheless, the novel has become Chopin’s enduring masterpiece for its psychological depth and artful, symbolic exploration of the universal human desire and struggle for self-realization within social limitation.
What is Kate Chopin’s most famous novel that depicts a woman’s process of self-actualization?
Kate Chopin’s most famous novel is The Awakening, published in 1899. The Awakening depicts the story of Edna Pontellier’s self-awakening and increasingly intense inner desire for freedom, self-hood, and independence in tension against the social conventions she faces as a Victorian woman and wife.
Critical Reception and Literary Influence
In the early 20th century after Chopin’s death, The Awakening was widely condemned as immoral even as a few figures like Willa Cather praised its artistry. Along with her short stories, Kate Chopin’s literary reputation went through a general decline and she was excluded from the canon of American greats throughout much of the first half of the 1900s.
In the 1960s, scholars and readers rediscovered Kate Chopin’s fiction during the rise of feminist literary criticism. Academics and critics brought renewed attention to Chopin’s insightful psychological portrayal of women’s inner lives, relationships, sexuality, and societal roles for their progressive stance during her historical time period, even though Chopin didn’t overtly align herself with first-wave suffrage feminism.
Thanks to feminist scholars and the second wave women’s movement revisiting The Awakening and her short fiction, Chopin is today considered an important forerunner to American feminist literature for her willingness to tackle themes of female identity, freedom, sexuality, and societal constraints. She is also studied as a key writer bridging late 19th century literary realism evolving towards early modernism.
Later Life and Death
Even during her growing literary success in the last decade of her life, Kate Chopin continued to face great trauma and loss in her personal affairs. She struggled as her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother passed away in rapid succession.
In 1904, Chopin’s daughter Leila died unexpectedly, plunging Kate into despair. Her letters reveal deep agony over the loss. Just 5 years later, Kate Chopin herself died unexpectedly on August 22, 1904 at age 54 while visiting the St. Louis World’s Fair. Contemporary accounts suggest she suffered a brain hemorrhage, but the exact circumstances of her sudden death remain unclear.
Chopin was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. Much of her work had yet to gain wider recognition and resonance. But in the century after her death, Kate Chopin would finally be celebrated as a trailblazer and literary foremother for her willingness to tackle themes of freedom, identity, sexuality and societal limitation facing women with great insight, nuance and empowering vision.
In her writing career spanning barely over a decade in the 1890s, Kate Chopin left behind an incredible literary legacy. Through her short stories and groundbreaking novels examining inner moral conflicts, gender roles, sexuality, identity and societal limitation with great insight, she explored universal and still relevant tensions between our unlimited inner selves and constructed social conventions.
Though largely unappreciated as a literary pioneer in her lifetime, Chopin’s willingness to tackle controversial themes surrounding women’s concealed desires and strive for self-actualization make her a founding mother of feminist fiction who was far ahead of her Victorian time period. Kate Chopin remains a seminal American writer bridging 19th century literary trends and modernist innovation in lucid yet symbolically resonant prose.
Even today, over a century after she authored them in a conservative era, Kate Chopin’s revelatory investigations into the human psyche through female characters inspire contemporary women writers and readers. Her immortal questions, negotiating our longing for emancipation against the structures imposed upon us from within and without, continue to capture the perennial struggle for freedom and integrity that dwells inside all individuals across history.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kate Chopin
Here are answers to some common questions about Kate Chopin’s life and writing career:
What genre and style is Kate Chopin’s writing categorized under?
Most of Kate Chopin’s writing, including her two novels and many short stories, are considered representative of late 19th century literary realism evolving towards early modernism. Her works offer accurate depictions of regional customs while tackling universal themes.
Was Kate Chopin a feminist?
While she did not overtly identify as a feminist or suffragette, Kate Chopin’s themes of female self-actualization in her fiction are considered progressive feminist perspectives on women’s place in society for the historical time she wrote them in the late Victorian era. She is seen today as an early feminist writer.
How many children did Kate Chopin raise as a widow?
Chopin was left with six children when her husband died in 1884, but only five out of her offspring survived past early childhood that she then raised as a single mother.
What aspects of Kate Chopin’s personal background influenced her writing?
Key influences on Chopin’s writing topics and style stem from her French-Creole heritage including its cultural perspectives on women, her early Catholic education and exposure to strong maternal figures, her personal experiences as a widow and single mother, and her intellectual curiosity across literature, science, philosophy and life.
What is Kate Chopin best known for as a writer?
Kate Chopin produced over 100 brilliant works of fiction, but she is best remembered for her themes of women’s struggles and sexual expression as well as her 1899 novel The Awakening. The Awakening remains Chopin’s artistic masterpiece in its symbolic exploration of female identity and freedom against societal demands.