In addition to her novels, Kate Chopin (SHO-pan) wrote nearly fifty poems, approximately one hundred stories and vignettes, and a small amount of literary criticism. Her poems are slight, and no serious claims can be made for them. Her criticism also tends to be modest, but it is often revealing. In one piece written in 1896, for example, she discloses that she discovered Guy de Maupassant eight years earlier—that is, when she first began to write. There is every indication that Maupassant remained one of her most important models in the short-story form. In another essay, she pays tribute to Mary Wilkins Freeman, the New England local colorist whose depiction of repressed passion in women was probably an influence on Chopin’s own work. Elsewhere, Chopin seems to distinguish between her own writing and that of the so-called local-color school. She is critical of Hamlin Garland for his concern with social problems, “which alone does not insure the survival of a work of art,” and she finds the horizons of the Indiana local-color writers too narrow. The subject of genuine fiction is not regional quaintness, she remarks, but “human existence in its subtle, complexmeaning, stripped of the veil with which ethical and conventional standards have draped it.” Like Thomas Huxley, much read in her circle, she finds no moral purpose in nature, and in her fiction she frequently implies the relativity of morals and received standards.
Chopin’s most important work, apart from her novels, lies in the short story. It was for her short stories that she was chiefly known in her time. Her earliest stories are unexceptional, but within only a few years she was producing impressive work, including a fine series of stories set in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. Many of these mature stories are included in the two volumes published during her lifetime—Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897). All of her stories and sketches were made available with the 1969 publication of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Had she never written The Awakening, these stories alone, the best of which are inimitable and gemlike, would ensure Chopin a place among the notable writers of the 1890’s.