Cloutierville: The Talk of the Town
FROM THE TIME Kate Chopin landed in Cloutierville, Louisiana -- with a tired, vexed brood of five youngsters, a sad husband, a servant or two, and another baby on the way -- she was eagerly watched. Townspeople loved misbehavior, drama, and sensational secrets, and once Madame Chopin settled in, those seeking amusement were rarely disappointed. She was not a Southern lady, she was not a country woman, and -- wittingly or not -- she knew how to discombobulate, fascinate, and enrage the local populace.
Cloutierville was a little French village, "two long rows of very old frame houses, facing each other closely across a dusty roadway," Kate Chopin wrote in an 1891 story ("For Marse Chouchoute"). Some 700 people lived either along the street or in the cabins and small houses in the fields beyond. None of the houses had the intricate ironwork or fancy wooden "gingerbread" that decorated so many ordinary New Orleans homes. Nor did they have the brick burgher solidity of St. Louis buildings. To an unappreciative urban eye, the houses in Cloutierville might seem to have very little character at all.
The land, though, had its appeal. Springtime was gorgeous, when the cotton plants sent out their green shoots against the red-brown soil, and the countryside was perfumed with sassafras and chamomile, and violets, magnolias, and roses made carpets of many colors. In the summer, there were swift and sudden storms, trailed by moist, simmering sunshine. By August, days were long and hot and dusty, and everything seemed limp and overripe. In September, there would be warm rains,