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Kate Chopin

 

Kate Chopin, born Catherine O'Flaherty in 1850, was the
daughter of an immigrant Irishman and a French-Anerican
mother. She was the youngest of three children and her life
was relatively happy until at the age of five years, her
father died. Her mother never remarried and the lack of
male role models in her life as she was maturing, prevented
her from experiencing what was basically a a fundamental
social concept of her time - the tradition of submission of
women to men in all social spheres. 

In 1868, when Kate graduated from the Saint Louis Academy,
she entered into the St. Louis social scene and was "one of
the acknowledged belles of St. Louis." As a young southern
debutante, she came in contact with many young men of her
social class and eventually, in 1870, married Oscar Chopin
of New Orleans, a Creole cotton broker. It was a happy
marriage and she fulfilled her role as wife and mother
bearing five children. 

In 1882, Oscar died suddenly, leaving Kate a widow and
businesswoman in her own right. She settled her business
affairs and in 1884 moved her family back to St. Louis to
be near her mother and relatives. Soon after this move her
mother died, ending their very close relationship. Chopin
was devastated by this loss of her husband and mother in
such rapid succession.
 
It was at this point in her life that she began writing.
She found her central focus and wrote stories whose
colorful characters often masked the seriousness of their
themes. She was influenced by such classic masters as
Maupassant who awakened her to ideas such as personal
liberty and freedom. She produced stories that were both
entertaining and serious and questioned the social mores
and standards of her time.
 
Her most famous novel, "The Awakening" published in 1899,
marked the end of her literary career. The book is about a
woman, Edna Pontellier, who slowly emerges from her
semi-conscious state as wife and mother and "awakens" into
womanhood by the novel's end. The American public was not
ready to read about female oppression and a woman's
emotional and sexual needs as neither subject was
acknowledged. 

A barrage of critical abuse and personal ostracization
followed the novel's publication and unfortunately
extinguished her period of creativity. Kate Chopin died
four years later from a brain hemorrhage, obscure and
bitter.

 




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