American author Kate Chopin (1850–1904) wrote two published novels and about a hundred short stories in the 1890s. Most of her fiction is set in Louisiana and most of her best-known work focuses on the lives of sensitive, intelligent women.
Her short stories were well received in her own time and were published by some of America's most prestigious magazines—Vogue, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Young People, Youth's Companion, and the Century. A few stories were syndicated by the American Press Association. Her stories appeared also in her two published collections, Bayou Folk (1894) and A Night in Acadie (1897), both of which received good reviews from critics across the country. About a third of her stories are children's stories—those published in or submitted to children's magazines or those similar in subject or theme to those that were. By the late 1890s Kate Chopin was well known among American readers of magazine fiction.
Her early novel At Fault (1890) had not been much noticed by the public, but The Awakening (1899) was widely condemned. Critics called it morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable. Willa Cather, who would become a well known twentieth-century American author, labeled it trite and sordid.
Some modern scholars have written that the novel was banned at Chopin's hometown library in St. Louis, but this claim has not been able to be verified, although in 1902, the Evanston, Illinois, Public Library removed The Awakening from its open shelves. Chopin's third collection of stories, to have been called A Vocation and a Voice, was for unknown reasons cancelled by the publisher and did not appear as a separate volume until 1991.
Chopin's novels were mostly forgotten after her death in 1904, but in the 1920s her short stories began to appear in anthologies, and slowly people again came to read her. In the 1930s a Chopin biography appeared which spoke well of her short fiction but dismissed The Awakening as unfortunate. However, by the 1950s scholars and others recognized that the novel is an insightful and moving work of fiction. Such readers set in motion a Kate Chopin revival, one of the more remarkable literary revivals in the United States.
After 1969, when Per Seyersted's biography, one sympathetic to The Awakening, was published, along with Seyersted's edition of her complete works, Kate Chopin became known throughout the world. She has attracted great attention from scholars and students, and her work has been translated into other languages, including Dutch, Portuguese, Czech, Korean, Polish, German, Spanish, and Japanese. She is today understood as a classic writer who speaks eloquently to contemporary concerns. The Awakening, "The Storm," "The Story of an Hour," "Désirée's Baby," "A Pair of Silk Stockings," "A Respectable Woman," "Athénaïse," and other stories appear in countless editions and are embraced by people for their sensitive, graceful, poetic depictions of women's lives.
Questions to consider for writing:
How are the lives of men and women portrayed in the work? Do the men and women in the story reject or accept these roles?
Does the work challenge or affirm traditional ideas about men and women?
How important is the historical context to interpreting the story?