February 8th – Kate Chopin

Hope follows on the heels of Faith. And the white-winged goddess—which is Hope—did not leave her, but prompted her to many little surreptitious acts of preparation in the event of the miracle coming to pass.

“A Little Country Girl” Kate Chopin

Author Kate Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty on February 8th, 1850, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother was French, and her father was Irish. Young Kate was raised Catholic, graduating from Sacred Heart Convent in 1868. While she was still a teenager, she began writing, keeping a notebook of poems, essays, and observations. She also writes her first short story, “Emancipation: A Life Fable,” about freedom. 

She married Oscar Chopin on June 8th, 1870, and moved to his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. Between 1871 and 1879, the couple had six children, five boys, and a girl. In 1879 her husband’s cotton brokerage failed, and the family moved up to Natchitoches Parish to manage plantations. Her husband died of malaria just a few years later, in 1882. Kate was just thirty-two, and the family was in enormous debt ($42,000, the equivalent of over a million dollars today). After his death, Kate ran his plantation and general store. She also (reportedly) flirted wildly and had a relationship with a married man, although she never remarried after Oscar’s death. In 1884 she sold the businesses and moved back to St. Louis to be with her mother. Then, in 1885, her mother died as well. Her mother’s doctor urged Kate to focus on her writing, not only for financial means but also as a curative for her depression and a place to put her energy. 

Chopin published her first poem and a few short stories in 1899. Her first novel, At Fault, which centers around a young widow and her love affair with a divorced man, was published in 1890. She wrote for many of the leading magazines of the day, including Vogue, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Young People, the Youth’s Companion, and the Century. Her best-known story, “Désirée’s Baby” (1893), was first published in Vogue. It deals with race and miscegenation in Antebellum Creole Louisiana. Two short story collections were also published during her lifetime, Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie(1897)

Her second novel, and by far the best-known work, The Awakening, was published in 1899. Although it fell out of print for many decades, it was rediscovered in the 1970s and is now a classic. 

Kate was said to write quickly and with little revision and surrounded by her children, although in the 1890s, they wouldn’t have been so little anymore. 

Chopin suffered a brain hemorrhage on August 20th, 1904, while visiting the St. Louis World’s Fair and died two days later. She was just 54. 

Lesson from Chopin:

Sometime after graduate school, maybe even in my early thirties, I had convinced myself that no successful woman author had kids. I even started composing an essay to that effect that I wish I could remember the name of because I’m sure it’s incredibly amusing, if not entirely morose. Then I ran into Kate Chopin. I was familiar with Chopin’s work – I went to a Women’s College, and she’s basically the godmother of feminist literature. But get this – she had six kids (some sources say 7). Six. That blew my theory right out of the water. 

Biographies of Kate Chopin

Emily Toth’s Unveiling Kate Chopin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999)

Per Seyersted’s Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969)

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