OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICS
KATE CHOPIN, one of the most innovative, subtle and openminded of nineteenth-century American writers, was born Catherine O'Flaherty, to a prosperous Irish/French family in St Louis, Missouri, on 8 February 1850. After the death of her father in a rail disaster in 1855, she was brought up by her widowed mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, speaking French and English, a keen and perceptive reader, and a gifted pianist. Growing up in a vibrant city, at the crosscurrents of change in the United States, she developed broad cultural perspectives, which were further enriched when she moved to Louisiana after her marriage to Oscar Chopin in 1870. After Oscar's sudden death in 1882, left with five young sons and an infant daughter, she eventually returned to St Louis where in the late 1880s she began to publish fiction and poetry. After completing two novels in 1889-90, At Fault ( 1890), privately printed, and Young Dr. Gosse which she destroyed, she came to feel that her strength lay in the short story. Drawing largely on her observations of the varied cultural groups of New Orleans and rural Louisiana, her writing began to appear in a range of journals from Youth's Companion to the newly founded Vogue. Two collections, Bayou Folk ( 1894) and A Night in Acadie ( 1897), consolidated her reputation, but The Awakening ( 1899) caused a sensation. While most readers acknowledged her superb art, there was widespread disgust at her sympathetic treatment of adulterous passion, and her radical criticisms of nineteenth-century ideals of marriage and motherhood. The book sold well in St Louis, where she remained a celebrity, but her work gradually sank into years of critical neglect. She' died on 22 August 1904.
PAMELA KNIGHTS lectures in English and American Literature at the University of Durham, England. She has published on American writers, including Edith Wharton, Louisa May Alcott, and William Faulkner, and has a particular interest in women writers for children.