February 8, 1850 – August 22, 1904
Kate Flaherty was a lovely young woman, still in her teens, when she was woo’ed at a party in her home town, St. Louis, by the man who became her husband, Oscar Chopin of Natchitoches Parish in Louisiana. Both were from well connected families and the future looked nothing but bright for the couple.
Six children followed in eight years: five boys and a girl. Kate was twenty-eight years old then, and her husband’s business was not thriving. He closed his New Orleans based business and moved to a tiny town where he managed several small plantations and owned a general store. He contracted and died of malaria, giving the then thirty-two year old Kate what is now equal to $250,000 and six children now raging in age from 4 years to 12 years.
She managed what was left of Oscar’s business before leaving for her home town to live with her mother, who died a year after she arrived. The always lively Kate had an increasing depression. Thankfully, long time family friend and physician, suggested she write as a way of healing.
It became more than that: it became a way for Kate to remain free: She wrote to support her children and herself. Widows didn’t have the opportunities to work nor did they have any social services to pull from, either. It was live off family or create a way to stay independent.
She started with short stories and a novel. Her reputation grew. She became known as a regionalist writer, specializing in the local color of Louisiana Creoles and Acadians she had come to know while living there. Her short story collections of the early 1890’s Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie were critically acclaimed best sellers.
It was a bold move to publish the far ahead of its time novel, The Awakening, in 1899. She was shamed by many, who thought the work was inflammatory and not to be read by “right society.” It was pulled off library shelves and still occasionally has the same fate even now.
She went back to writing tame short stories until 1904 when she died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 53.
After her death, she seemed to be forgiven by the literary community who had criticized her story of sensual awakening. In 1915, Fred Lewis Pattee wrote, "some of (Chopin’s) work is equal to the best that has been produced in France or even in America. Her writing may be described as a native aptitude for narration amounting almost to genius."
This blog post is an entry in the A to Z Challenge. Each day in April (except Sundays) I will be featuring a woman in literary history. If you click on the logo below, you will be introduced to the writing of more than a thousand bloggers writing on a wide variety of topics in April, all from A to Z!
Julie Jordan Scott has been a Life & Creativity Coach, Writer, Facilitator and Teleclass Leader since 1999. She is also an award winning Actor, Director, Artist and Mother Extraordinaire. She was twice the StoryTelling Slam champion in Bakersfield. She teaches a teleclass/ecourse "Discover the Power of Writing & Telling Engaging, Enlightening Stories" which begins again April 19, 2012. Find details by clicking this link.
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