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Kate Chopin 1850 - 1904

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Kate Chopin 1850 - 1904
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Kate Chopin 1850 - 1904

Kate O'Flaherty was born in 1850 in Saint Louis, Missouri, United States. Her mother, Eliza, was a well-connected member of the French Creole community. Her father, Thomas, was a very successful businessman who had immigrated from Ireland.Kate's father died in 1855, when Kate was five. As a founder of the Pacific Railroad, he was aboard the inaugural trip when a bridge across the Gasconade River collapsed. Thomas was among the fatalities. That same year, Kate entered the St. Louis Academy of the Sacred Heart.Her father's death led to the young Kate developing a close relationship with both her mother and great-grandmother. She also became an avid reader of fairy tales, poetry, religious allegories, as well as classic and contemporary novels. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens were among her favorite authors.

1863 was a bad year for Kate's family: her great-grandmother died, as did her half brother, George. A Confederate soldier, he died of typhoid fever as a prisoner of war. Kate dropped out of regular schooling and became even further engrossed in her world of books.

In 1865, she re-enrolled in formal schooling, returning ultimately to the Sacred Heart Academy. She began keeping a commonplace book. She graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 1868, but did not achieve any particular distinction--except as a master storyteller.

In her late teens Kate became a high-society belle in St. Louis, where she was known for her wit, and devoted much time to music. On a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, she met and was greatly influenced by an independent woman singer and actress. Her experiences in New Orleans were the basis of "Emancipation: A Life Fable". During these years, she began to question the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in matters concerning gender roles: she felt that it held down women.

Kate married Oscar Chopin on June 9, 1870 in St. Louis, Missouri. Chopin was a member of the St. Louis French Creole community. They honeymooned in Germany, Switzerland, and France, but returned to America early because of the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

In the next ten years, Kate and Oscar lived in New Orleans with a promiscuous lifestyle (at 1413 Louisiana Avenue), where Oscar eventually entered the cotton business as a "factor". During this period, she had five sons and one daughter while remaining active in the city's social life. Summers were spent at Grand Isle, a resort community on the Gulf of Mexico. Kate's independence grew, including the unheard-of practice of walking unaccompanied throughout the city, which considerably upset the locals. She witnessed racial confrontations, as well as organized terrorism against blacks.

In 1879, Oscar's cotton brokerage failed and the family moved to Cloutierville Louisiana to manage several small plantations and a general store. They became active in the community, and Kate absorbed much material for her future writing, especially regarding the cajun culture of the area. Their home at 243 Highway 495 (built by Alexis Cloutier in the early part of the century) is now a national historic landmark and the home of the Bayou Folk Museum.

When Oscar died of swamp fever in 1884, he left Kate $12,000 in debt (approximately $229,360 in todays American dollars). Kate attempted to manage the plantations and store alone but with little success. She had an affair with a passionate though married farmer.

Her mother implored her to move back to St. Louis, which she and the children eventually did, in 1884. Kate and the children gradually settled into life in St. Louis where she needed no longer be concerned about money. She was able to read more. The following year, Kate's mother died.

At about this time, Kate suffered a nervous breakdown and her doctor suggested she consider writing as a way to calm herself. She took his advice, and soon rediscovered her natural story-telling.

By the late 1880s, Kate was writing short stories, articles, and translations which appeared in periodicals, most notably Atlantic Monthly, Criterion, Harper's Young People, The Saint Louis Dispatch, and Vogue. She became known as a regional local-color writer, but her literary qualities were overlooked.

In 1899, her second novel, The Awakening, was published to much outrage and harsh criticism based upon moral, rather than literary, standards. Her best-known work, it is the story of a dissatisfied wife who explores her sexuality. Out of print for several decades, it is now widely available. Kate, deeply discouraged but not defeated, returned mainly to short story writing. In 1900 she wrote The Gentleman from New Orleans, and that same year was listed in the first edition of Marquis Who's Who. In 1904 Kate collapsed while visiting the St. Louis World's Fair. She died two days later, at the age of 52.


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e-texts of novels and short stories
by Kate Chopin

A very young, inexperienced
girl marries an older man,
but finds married life
disagreeable. Missing her
own home, and especially
her brother, she runs away
to New Orleans. After
discovering that she's pregnant,
she re-evaluates her decision

agreeable afternoon in
late autumn two young
men stood together on
Canal Street, closing a
conversation that had
evidently begun within
the club-house which
they had just quitted.
"There 's big money in it,
Offdean," said the elder
of the two. "I wouldn't
have you touch it if there
wasn't. Why, they tell me
Patchly 's pulled a hundred
thousand out of the concern
a'ready." so begins the opening
tale of this collection of short stories

A large, gaunt black woman
had been frightened literally
"out of her mind" as a child
during the Civil War by the
sight of her master, bloodied
and covered in mud and debris,
escaping from pursuing troops.
She limits her life, never leaving
the wide yard surrounding her
cabin, half-circled by a bayou
in front and a forest behind.
Years later, she is called upon
leave her sanctuary when her
former master's son—her favorite
visitor—shoots himself while hunting

A former convent girl
marries well and moves
to Paris, but ultimately
enters the world of the
demimondaine. She
spends a few happy
days each year at the
convent until the
Mother Superior finally
learns of her questionable
life in Paris.

' there was nothing to do
on the plantation so
Telèsphore, having a
few dollars in his pocket,
thought he would go down
and spend Sunday in the
vicinity of Marksville.'
thus begins the title story of
this collection of short stories

Chopin's major work, a novel,
was published in 1899. Since
she was well-established as a
national writer of note, it was
reviewed by all major national
critics, who universally condemned
it as "shocking" and "immoral."
It is the story of a young matron's
gradual awakening to her own
sexual and individual "being,"
and longing for an independence
that society would not permit her.
today The Awakening is among
the five most-read American novels
in colleges and universities and is
considered an early example of
American realism.

Cloutierville, where Kate Chopin lived

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