Kate Chopin (Magill's Literary Annual 1991)
The dust jacket of this biography advertises it as “A Life of the Author of The Awakening,” thus identifying Kate Chopin’s primary claim to recognition in the late twentieth century. Canonized by inclusion in the major anthologies of American literature, The Awakening has enjoyed critical acclaim and popular success. This biography, the first of Kate Chopin in twenty years, explains how this novel came to be written. Exactly as Gustave Flaubert observed, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” so Chopin might have said that The Awakening is the story of her life. The work unquestionably depends on a literary tradition that includes Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), Bjornstjerne Bjornson’s Fiskerjenten (1868; The Fisher Maiden, 1869), and the stories of Guy de Maupassant, several of which Chopin translated in the 1890’s. Much of the book’s power, though, derives from Chopin’s ability to draw on first-hand knowledge of Louisiana’s Cane River country where the novel is set and, even more significantly, on her own experiences and emotions in the 1880’s in Cloutierville. She could describe Edna Pontellier’s quest for fulfillment and rejection of convention so convincingly because she was writing about herself.
Whereas Edna rebels against her background as well as her society to forge a life of her own, Chopin found much in her heritage to encourage independence. Even as a child, she longed to...
(The entire section is 1992 words.)
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Kate Chopin (Magill Book Reviews)
Growing up in a family of independent females, Kate O’Flaherty Chopin learned early about women who chose freedom over security, independence over convention. Toth’s interviews have revealed that after the death of Chopin’s husband in 1882—perhaps while he was still alive—Kate, too, rejected societal norms, carrying on an affair with Albert Sampite of Cloutierville, Louisiana. Sampite later served as the model for several of Chopin’s characters, including the two lovers of Edna Pontellier, the heroine of THE AWAKENING. In 1884, Chopin ended the relationship and returned to her native St. Louis, where, encouraged by Dr. Frederick Kolbenheyer, a family friend, she began to write professionally. During the 1890’s her stories appeared in leading magazines, and at the end of the decade she published her masterpiece, THE AWAKENING, detailing a woman’s disillusionment with her safe but boring marriage. Love affairs also fail to fulfill Edna, who chooses self-sufficiency and suicide.
Toth demolishes the myth that THE AWAKENING was banned, and she shows that Chopin continued to write even after the novel received generally negative reviews. Magazines were, however, wary of Chopin after the appearance of that work, and Chopin apparently stopped writing after 1902.
The biography is enhanced by twenty-two black-and-white photographs, most of them of Chopin herself. Also included are a useful chronology and bibliography, indicating when...
(The entire section is 326 words.)