December's Pick 2005

The Awakening and Selected Stories

Image representing The Awakening & Selected Stories The Awakening and Selected Stories
edited and with an introduction by Sandra M. Gilbert.

The literary reputation and career of Kate Chopin were compromised after the shocked critical reception to her 1899 novel, The Awakening. The novel’s heroine, Edna Pontellier, wife of a New Orleans broker, leaves her husband and children for a life of greater independence, including extramarital sex. More than half a century after Chopin’s death, the author was “rehabilitated” by an appreciative re-evaluation of the importance and groundbreaking nature of her work. Edna’s story opens on Grand Isle, La., a Gulf Coast island devastated by an Oct. 1, 1893 hurricane that killed 2,000 people. The catastrophe forever changed the island as Chopin knew it. Before publication of The Awakening, Chopin had received positive reviews as a “local colorist,” capturing the regional qualities of 19th century Southern life in her fiction. More modern acknowledgment of her contributions to the literary genre of realism, as well as appreciative feminist interpretations of her work have brought Chopin into the pantheon of the most important American women fiction writers of the 19th century.

There are many different editions of The Awakening — some of which also include Chopin’s short stories, and others which include valuable criticism of her work. The Library has purchased additional copies of the edition entitled, The Awakening and Other Short Stories. The Awakening is also available at the Library as an audiocassette book as well as a downloadable audiobook.

Photo of Kate Chopin

About the Author

Kate Chopin (1851-1904), née Catherine O’Flaherty, was born in St. Louis, Mo., to a French Creole mother and an Irish father. Her Creole great-grandmother’s exciting stories of the French settlers of St. Louis made a strong impression on the young Catherine. After graduation from Catholic school and life as a beautiful and witty Southern belle, she married Oscar Chopin, a French Creole from Louisiana, eventually moving to New Orleans and then to her husband’s family plantations. After her husband’s death, the mother of six moved back to St. Louis and began writing about Louisiana. She published poems, short stories, and a first novel that garnered mixed reviews.

Two collections of short stories, Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, were well received as examples of “local color” fiction. Her next published novel was The Awakening. It offended critics with its themes of marital infidelity, sexual passion and female independence. The harsh reception did not, as some believe, completely end the author’s literary output. She again wrote about illicit sexual passion in The Storm well before D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Unfortunately, poor health finally resulted in her collapse from a cerebral hemorrhage. She died in 1904.

Of Related Interest

Kate Chopin,Chelsea House, 1987.
edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom
Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969. A critical biography credited with revitalizing Chopin studies.
by Per Seyersted.
Sister's Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women's Writing Clarendon Press, 1991. Gives a feminist perspective on American women's writings.
by Elaine Showalter.
For more information about the author’s life and writings, look up Kate Chopin on Literature Resource Center, a San Francisco Public Library database.

For more information, call 415-557-4277.

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