THROUGHOUT HER LIFE, Kate Chopin had been sustained by women friends and relatives, and only sometimes by male admirers. But her own intelligence and ambition had done the most to drive her away from the expected path -- belle, wife, widow, club woman -- and into a unique channel, as a writer of stories about women's dreams and conflicts and possibilities. As the new century opened, that channel seemed to be blocked, while the supports that had nurtured her throughout her life were crumbling.
Many women have a point at which they realize that they are middle-aged, and that many possibilities are forever closed to them. For someone like Kate Chopin, youth and beauty had long since become unimportant. The opportunities to express her opinions, to share her wit and insights, were what mattered most. If she had been French and a hostess rather than an author, running a salon might have been sufficient. She could nurture and cheer the talents of others, and bask in their appreciation.
But for a creative woman in St. Louis, that was not enough.
Four of her children were still living at home. Jean was a traveling salesman, Oscar an artist, and Felix a law student; Lélia, as was traditional for a débutante and a society woman, had no official occupation. The Morgan Street household also had one live-in servant, a thirty-year- old black woman named Annie Porter. In the 1900 census, Kate Chopin's occupation is listed as "capitalist."
Meanwhile, her son George was a physician living in a boarding house nearer his hospital -- but her son Fred had been floundering since his short stint as one of the "spoiled darlings" in the Spanish-American