David J. Caudle
Since Per Seyersted published The Complete Works of Kate Chopin in 1969. the interest in this author -- all but ignored for more than sixty years -- has increased dramatically, causing her work to be elevated to the canon of American letters. Thirty years after Seyersted restored Chopin to the attention of academic critics and casual readers alike, the popularity of her writings and the number of scholarly essays dealing with her work continues to increase each year. In the last two decades, only three critical essays and one book review have taken exception to the quality and importance of Chopin's work -- these from a body of scholarship that includes some five hundred studies, and none of them has exerted any noticeable influence on either critics or casual readers 1. The critical community of the late twentieth century largely argues that Chopin's fiction was ahead of its time. A similar perception among Chopin's contemporaries, coupled with her frank portrayal of female sexuality, is often cited as an explanation for the disappearance of most of her work.
Most critics overlook the fact that within less than twenty years of Chopin's death her most controversial piece, The Awakening, would have been perceived by both casual readers and critics alike as almost discreet in its sexual content. Chopin's work thus faced more intransigent and profound obstacles to widespread acceptance than those presented by Victorian sexual mores. In addition, Chopin's work was, and remains, difficult to classify. The last decade of the nineteenth century was a time of transition in both American society and American literature. The Romantic indulgences of the Transcendentalists and their followers were out of fashion in the aftermath of the Civil War, yet no clear literary vision arose in