The Life and Literary Work of Kate Chopin
Courageous . . . daring . . . innovative . . . all aptly describe Kate Chopin, American short story writer, novelist, poet, and essayist. Timeless classics, Kate Chopin’s works of the late nineteenth century remain rare jewels and priceless gifts to the literary world today.
Born Katherine O’Flaherty on February 8, 1851, in St. Louis, Chopin was the daughter of a prominent Irish merchant and an aristocratic French-Creole mother. Chopin’s roots in, and familiarity with, two distinctly different cultures were important on both a personal and creative level throughout her life. As a member of a slave-owning family and an elite social circle, Chopin was exposed to people of diverse color and background, many of whom provided the basis for her later writings.
Kate Chopin was one of five children; and the only one to survive past the age of twenty-five. Chopin’s father was killed in a train accident when Chopin was only four years old, leaving her to be reared under the strong maternal influences of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. These determined women and life’s harsh losses taught Chopin valuable lessons of strength and independence.
Kate Chopin’s formal education began when she was five years old at Sacred Heart Academy, a catholic school, and she graduated at seventeen. She had been an honor student, was widely read, and spoke two languages fluently. Upon graduation, Chopin entered the social life of St. Louis, and was noted to be "one of the acknowledged belles of St. Louis, a favorite not only for her beauty, but also for her amiability of character and her cleverness" (Seyersted 23). By this time, she loved (and was accomplished at) reading, music, and writing.
When she twenty, Chopin married Oscar Chopin, a wealthy Creole cotton businessman, and they moved to New Orleans for the next ten years. Within this decade, Chopin gave birth to five sons and one daughter. Even as a new mother, Kate Chopin’s daring and unconventional side was evident as "she would lift her skirts too high, deliberately revealing her ankles . . . smoked Cuban cigarettes, and wore fancy riding habits which shocked longtime residents" (Toth 63).
Oscar’s financial condition soured and the family was forced to move to his father’s home in Louisiana where Oscar managed and later inherited his plantations for the elder Chopin. Oscar Chopin died in 1883,...