Kate Chopin

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- Kate Chopin -

Katherine O'Flaherty (1850 or 1851August 22, 1904), known by her married name Kate Chopin, was an American author of short stories and novels. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1904 and was interred in the Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri.




Kate O'Flaherty was born in 1850 or 1851 (most likely 1850) in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. 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 leads 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.

Early adulthood

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.

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, 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. She witnessed racial confrontations and organized terrorism against blacks.

Hard years

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. When Oscar died of swamp fever in 1882, he left Kate $12,000 in debt (approximately $200,000 in 1990 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 this idea up, and soon rediscovered her natural story-telling talents.

The writing years

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 readily 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 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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