Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Author of the early feminist novel The Awakening, Kate Chopin created works that showcased the Louisiana bayou country and often featured women struggling against society’s restrictions.
Katherine O’Flaherty was born February 8, 1851, in St. Louis. Her father was an Irish merchant and her mother was the daughter of an old French family. Chopin’s early fluency with French and English, and her roots in two different cultures, were important throughout her life.
Kate’s father, Thomas O’Flaherty, was killed in a train accident in 1855 (the imagined effect on her mother was later depicted in “The Story of an Hour”). Kate lived her preteen years in a female-centered household. Her sophisticated grandmother had a great impact on Kate, encouraging her to reject hypocrisy, to love music and storytelling, and to indulge in unconventional behavior. Kate’s formal education began at Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic school devoted to creating good wives and mothers, while also teaching independent thinking. Kate’s readings included fairy tales, The Pilgrim’s Progress, old-fashioned romances, and contemporary popular novels by women.
The Civil War meant that Kate spent much time at home; she saw the war’s violence at first hand. After Kate returned to the academy, her English teacher encouraged her to write. Kate kept a “commonplace book” from 1867-1870, where she recorded observations on her reading and studies. At the age of eighteen, Kate was known as one of St. Louis’ prettiest and most popular belles. Her diary, however, reveals that she was torn between social pressures—to attend dances, flirt, and be agreeable—and her passion for voracious reading of authors such as Victor Hugo, Dante, Molière, Jane Austen, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In an age known for producing restless women, Kate also seemed to want something more.
When she was twenty, Kate married Oscar Chopin, a twenty-six-year-old businessman of cosmopolitan background. In their first ten years of marriage, Kate gave birth to five sons and a daughter. Motherhood’s joys and demands, as well as societal restraints on women, are important themes in her fiction. During these years, Kate and the children lived three seasons in New Orleans and spent long summers at the Creole resort Grande Isle.
In 1879, Oscar Chopin’s money-lending business was in deep trouble. The family moved to Cloutierville, Louisiana, where Oscar ran a general store. Kate Chopin’s sophisticated behavior and dress inspired gossip in the small, closely knit town. Her husband, worn down by financial worries, died in 1882, leaving Kate with debts of some $12,000 and six children to rear alone. She decided to manage Oscar’s businesses herself. During this time she was romantically linked with Albert Sampite, a handsome and unhappily married man. In 1884, Kate left Cloutierville and Sampite to return to St. Louis, where she lived with her mother.
Her mother’s death the following year left Kate devastated; a physician friend suggested that she write for solace—and for much-needed money. Kate’s writings at the time indicate that she sometimes longed for the security of marriage, but also recognized that the deaths of the two people closest to her gave her independence unavailable to other women. She later characterized this period as a time of “growth.”
These sudden deaths and her own unconventional ideas demanded that Kate Chopin make her own way. She started her first short story in 1888, and became a published author in 1889 when her poem “If It Might Be” appeared in the journal America. Her stories and sketches from this early period show that she questioned traditional romance. “Wiser Than a God” depicts a woman who chooses a career as pianist over marriage. Other stories portray a suffragist and a professional woman who try to determine their own lives. Chopin’s friends during this period included “New Women”—single working women, suffragists, and intellectuals—who doubtless influenced her previously private questioning of women’s role in society.
At Fault (1890), Chopin’s first novel, focuses on a woman who renounces her lover after she learns he is divorced. The conflict between morality and sexual attraction is a major theme, and the novel is ahead of its time in depicting an alcoholic woman, the lover’s estranged wife. This novel suggests that environment is a greater influence on behavior than heredity—an unpopular idea in the 1890’s. At Fault was praised for its local color and believable characters, but was attacked by literary moralists, who disliked its subject matter and language. Because one publisher had rejected the novel and Chopin was impatient for publication, she paid to have it printed and distributed.
Chopin also wrote children’s stories that appeared in national magazines. Her stature as author began to grow. In her adult stories, she persisted in writing about taboo subjects: “Mrs. Mobry’s Reason” (1893), repeatedly rejected, concerned venereal disease; “The Coming and Going of Liza Jane” (1892) focuses on a woman who, longing for a more glamorous life, leaves her husband. Chopin’s output from this period is oddly split between formula writing of predictable morality tales and stories of individuals’ conflicts with society....
(The entire section is 2243 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Chopin revealed through her artistry the realities of many women’s stifled lives and the oppression of often-overlooked minority groups such as the Creoles and Cajuns. Chopin also depicted the beauty of these people’s lifestyle in the Louisiana bayou region and the power of individuals to shape their own lives. Through lyrical depictions of natural settings, Chopin compared the powers of nature to the potential for human self-empowerment.
Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1851. Her mother’s family was Creole, descended from French settlers, and her father, a successful merchant, was an Irish immigrant. She was educated at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis beginning in 1860, five years after her father’s accidental death, and was graduated in 1868. In 1870, she married Oscar Chopin, who took her to live in Louisiana, first in New Orleans and later in Natchitoches Parish, the setting for many of her stories. In 1882, Oscar died of swamp fever; Kate Chopin managed her husband’s properties for a year and in 1884 returned to St. Louis. The next year her mother died, and in 1888 Chopin began writing out of a need for...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty on February 8, 1851, in St. Louis, Missouri, into a socially prominent family with roots in the French past of both St. Louis and New Orleans. Her father, Thomas O’Flaherty, an immigrant from Ireland, had lived in New York and Illinois before settling in St. Louis, where he prospered as the owner of a commission house. In 1839, he married into a well-known Creole family, members of the city’s social elite, but his wife died in childbirth only a year later. In 1844, he married Eliza Faris, merely fifteen years old but, according to French custom, eligible for marriage. Faris was the daughter of a Huguenot man who had migrated from Virginia and a woman who was descended from the...
(The entire section is 1202 words.)
Kate Chopin began writing in 1888, at the age of thirty-seven; even her early work is thus informed by a range of experience that shaped the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a host of convincing characters. The child of a prominent St. Louis family, she was reared in a privileged environment. From ages nine through seventeen, she was educated at an elite Catholic school. At nineteen, she married Oscar Chopin, a New Orleans banker seven years her senior.
Chopin was independent to a degree unusual for a woman of her time. Her diary, for example, records her delight in her physical accomplishments such as rowing and...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Katherine O’Flaherty Chopin (SHO-pan) may well be the most important American female realist writer of the late nineteenth century, and in The Awakening she produced a masterpiece worthy of comparison with Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857). Katherine O’Flaherty was the daughter of the wealthy Irish immigrant Thomas O’Flaherty and his second wife, Eliza Feris, a descendant of an old Creole family. When she was four years old, her father died in a railway accident; the event affected her deeply, and the account of a similar catastrophe plays a central role in “The Story of an Hour” (1894).
(The entire section is 801 words.)
Kate Chopin was born Katie O’Flaherty in 1850 in St. Louis to an Irish father and a French mother. Her father died in a train crash in 1855. Kate was taught and greatly influenced by her maternal great-grandmother who was an independent, free thinker. She taught Kate through storytelling, in both English and French. Additionally, Kate attended the prestigious Sacred Heart Academy, which promoted intelligence and independent thinking. Kate began her lifelong love of reading and writing there.
In 1861 the Civil War began, and Kate, after ripping down a Union flag posted in front of her home, became known as St. Louis “Littlest Rebel.” During the course of the war, Kate lost her brother, her great-grandmother, and her best friend. She later wrote war stories about loss, grief, terror, and fear. She became preoccupied with death.
Kate graduated in 1868 and “came out” to the debutante scene where she was praised for her beauty and cleverness. She, however, hated the life that took her away from reading, writing, and thinking, and she particularly hated the constricting clothes that society women were forced to wear. Despite her inner rebelliousness, she married Oscar Chopin in 1870, moved to New Orleans, and had six children. She loved her husband and children but felt engulfed by her life. She became well known for taking long solitary walks (which scandalized the townspeople).
Oscar died in 1882, and Kate had an affair with a married man named Albert Sampite who later appeared in many of her major works as a character called “Alcee.” She moved back to St. Louis in 1884, and after her mother died in 1885, Kate took up writing more seriously. Her publishing debut came in 1889 with a poem titled “If It Might Be.” Her first novel, titled At Fault, was published in 1890, but national recognition did not come until her first national publication in 1894, a collection of short stories titled Bayou Folk.
Kate’s favorite writer was Guy de Maupassant and like him, much of Kate’s fiction was considered scandalous. Nobody, however, denied her talent. She was a prolific and much published writer; she wrote short stories, poems, essays, and novels. Even the bad reviews for The Awakening did not hurt Kate’s literary reputation. In 1900 she was included in the first edition of Who’s Who in America, and she continued to have many admirers. However she was deeply wounded by the negative reviews and by people’s lack of understanding. She wrote less often after that. Kate died in 1904 after spending the day at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
Kate Chopin was a woman ahead of her time. In the 1960s, with the advent of feminism Kate Chopin was resurrected, and The Awakening is considered to be one of the first feminist books.
Kate Chopin Biography (Desiree's Baby: Literary Touchstone Classic)
A popular writer of Creole life in Louisiana, Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin (1851 – 1904) is remembered today primarily for her ground-breaking feminist novel, The Awakening. She was reared and educated in St. Louis, Missouri. Chopin had a mixed background—an Irish father and French Creole mother. Chopin was a witty, intelligent debutante who married, traveled to Europe, and then settled in New Orleans. Her father's death, her close relationship with her family, and a habit of avid reading all contributed to her later writing.
Although actively involved in the social life of the city during her years there, she was still able to give birth to and raise six children. Chopin began to write as a result of a series of unfortunate personal events: the death of her husband, escalating debts, the death of her mother, and a nervous breakdown. By the late 1880s, however, she was contributing to popular periodicals, and in the 1890s, published two collections of short stories, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. Her major work, The Awakening, unleashed a torrent of criticism when it was originally published, because of its theme and its portrayal of a woman who chooses to be independent of her husband.
Chopin died in 1904 from a cerebral hemorrhage.
dingy - a small boat
IntroductionConsidered together, Kate Chopin’s life and work show how difficult it is to define female identity in America. Chopin’s greatest works (The Awakening, “The Story of an Hour”) are defined by portraits of women becoming aware of their own desires, struggling to realize them, and dying. However, in her own life it was Chopin’s loved ones who died and Chopin herself who lived to juggle artistic, social, and sexual desires, all while raising six children alone and dealing with her late-husband’s debts. Her works repeatedly refuse to provide simple answers and instead draw readers into sympathy with the complexities created by passion, racial bias, and the demands imposed by society.
- Much of Chopin’s life was defined by the deaths of those close to her. Her father died when she was only 4 years old. A founder of the Pacific Railroad, he was killed when a railway bridge collapsed.
- Chopin’s half-brother died from typhoid fever in 1863. Her great-grandmother, whom she’d been very close to, died the same year.
- Many of Chopin’s works are set in Louisiana and often describe the lush natural settings and the mix of cultures that define the region.
- The Awakening has been adapted into two movies, and PBS made a documentary about Chopin’s life in 1999.
- After spending a day at the World’s Fair in Saint Louis in 1904, Chopin died of a brain hemorrhage.
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Kate O’Flaherty Chopin was born into a wealthy Catholic family in St. Louis, Missouri, on February 8, 1851. Her mother, Eliza Fans, was from an aristocratic French-Creole family, and her father, Thomas O’Flaherty, was an Irish immigrant who became a prominent merchant in St. Louis. After her father died in 1855, Kate was raised at home, among three generations of strong-willed and self-sufficient female relatives who undoubtedly influenced her attitudes about women.
On June 9, 1870, two years after graduating from a St. Louis convent school, Kate married Oscar Chopin, a French-Creole. After the marriage, she moved...
(The entire section is 620 words.)