Louisiana Observed: Regional Writing and Kate Chopin's People and Languages
In the revival of Chopin's reputation, many critics have chosen to downplay her associations with nineteenth-century regional writing. New readers, however, often inquire about these very elements, which can be particularly striking, even baffling, at first encounter.
Chopin's Louisianastories tap into a rich vein of interest in southern people and places, exploited in literature, journalism, and travel-writing from the end of the Civil War onwards, waning to some extent by the midnineties. As Alcée Fortier wrote in 1891,'Everything concerning French Louisiana seems at this time to possess an interest for the public' (' "The Acadians of Louisiana and their Dialect"', PMLA 6:1 ( 1891), 64). In New Orleans itself, promotional literature for the Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 played on romanticized images of Louisiana, as the city turned to advantage its unique differences from the rest of the nation. The colourful social geographies of New Orleans, the mysterious Gulf Coast, comparisons between Creoles and Americans, accounts of the Creole woman, comments on patois, descriptions of the Acadian way of life, all became standard features, repeated from text to text often in nearidentical phrasing. Writing by outsiders varied in tone, however, from the openly patronizing to the sympathetic and excited. (One of the most notable commentators was Chopin's exact contemporary, the versatile Lafcadio Hearn ( 1850-1904), a British-Irish/Greek-born cosmopolitan, later a Japanese subject, whose lyrical prose-poems and down-to-earth observations of everyday New Orleans life contributed much to positive constructions of the city. His romantic images of the Gulf in Chita may also have influenced Chopin.) Southerners themselves frequently took up similar tropes, but some were more vigorously defensive. The work of George Washington Cable ( 1844-1925), which for many came quintessentially to define the old regime, caused offence among the Creoles of his native New Orleans. Cable drew heavily on the standard History of Louisiana( 1879) by Judge Charles Gayarré ( 1805-1895), which represented French Louisiana culture as the summit of civilization. His own work was more critical, hinting at the oppression and embedded racial injustices of that society. His Old Creole Days ( 1879), The Grandissimes ( 1880), and his articles in national periodicals such as the Century were received with enthusiasm in the North, as stories of a fascinating and exotic foreign realm. But they were deemed by many locals to portray the Creoles as a