American writer of the late 19th century, lived 1851-1904. Many of her nineteenth-century stories were considered shocking and explored taboo subjects including: miscegenation, divorce and female sexuality.

Although she did not begin her writing career until thirty-nine, Kate was quite prolific and in a decade published 95 short stories, 2 novels, 1 play and 8 essays of literary criticism. Kate's first novel At Fault dealt with alcoholism and divorce and had an unusually strong female protagonist, It was considered daring in 1890, although the novel attracted almost no attention initially.

Many of her adult stories, including "The Story of an Hour, "A Pair of Silk Stocking" and her novel The Awakening feature wives and mothers who feel enslaved. Chopin also dealt with the taboo subject of miscegenation in "Desiree's Baby" and the horrible life of a slave under even the best mistress in "La Belle Zoraide".

The Awakening was met with considerable hostility, even outrage, from readers, critics and library censors when it was published in 1899. Some of this outrage seems to stem from the fact that Chopin allowed her protagoniast, Edna Pontellier to take control of her life and did not criticize her for doing so. Chopin's career was ended and she died 5 years later. Her work was largely ignored until 1969 when The Complete Works of Kate Chopin were published.

Some biographical details taken from The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume Two, Paul Lauter General Editor, Copyright 1994.

Kate Chopin: Biography of an American Feminist Author

Her Parentage

Thomas O'Flaherty, the father of Kate Chopin, was a highly successful Irish immigrant. A shrewd businessman, he was a founder of the Pacific Railroad and became very prosperous. His first wife died, leaving him with one son, George. 6 months after that wife's death, the middle-aged man married a woman half his age: 16-year-old Eliza Faris, a French-Creole girl of a well-bred, but impoverished family.

Chopin's extended family also included some interesting characters. Her great-great grandmother was granted the first legal separation in St. Louis, gave birth out of wedlock, and financed keelboats to some success. Both her great-grandmother and grandmother had been widowed young and never remarried.

Her Childhood

Katherine O'Flaherty was born on February 8, 1851 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was tragically killed when a bridge collapsed as his train was crossing it. Kate was only 5 years old. Her mother never remarried.

Kate had been enrolled in the prestigious Academy of the Sacred Heart, a boarding school in Louisiana, for two months prior to the loss of her father. Upon his death, she was called back home and her education was administered by her great grandmother for two years, returning to the Academy at age 7.

There she developed a reputation as a fiercely intelligent child, an excellent pianist, and a great storyteller. However, when the Civil War broke out, Kate's best friend, Kitty Garesche was thrown out of the school for Confederate sympathies and Kate's half-brother George died of typhoid fever. Depressed and lonely, she began keeping a diary, the earliest of her known writings.

Her Adulthood

A 19 year old woman, Kate Chopin met Oscar Chopin, a cotton broker, and married him in 1870. The pair honeymooned in France, then moved into Oscar's home in New Orleans. After 9 years and several children, the brokerage business collapsed and Oscar took his wife and children to Natchitoches, a parish in northern Louisiana, to live on his family's plantation. There, Kate was immersed in French-Creole culture. In 1882, however, Oscar contracted swamp fever and died. Heartbroken, Kate packed up her six children and moved back to St. Louis and took up writing as a form of therapy.

In this occupation, she found great critical success, supplementing her income from real estate. However, when she published The Awakening, a scandalous novel strewn with sex, suicide, and the startling notion that marriage wasn't the default state of being for women, her popularity was decimated. Shunned as immoral and promiscuous, Kate was so indignant and hurt at the uproar her novel caused that she never again published another full-length story.

Chopin died in August, 1904, after attending the St. Louis 1904 World's Fair, of a brain hemmorhage.


Works Consulted
Bantam Book's Introduction to The Awakening
"Kate Chopin: A Woman Ahead of Her Time" (url:
"Biography of Kate Chopin" (url:

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