Certainly, from our vantage point in the late twentieth century, Kate Chopin produced during her fifty-four years some of the most extraordinary and brilliant fiction in the American literary canon. However, this productivity began after she had lived more than two thirds of her life, embarking at thirty-nine on an extraordinary literary career. On the one hand, the first part of her life looks fairly unremarkable for where and when she lived. She did what most middle- class Southern women living during the second half of the nineteenth century did: She married, had children, and attended to her family. On the other hand, in the second phase of her life, we can see Chopin challenging convention, as does Edna Pontellier, the protagonist of her great novel The Awakening. By contemplating these two parts of Kate Chopin's life, we see the split between the "mother-woman" and the widow-writer, for Chopin was both loyal to normative cultural scripts and disloyal, both circumscribed by her century and her gender and actively pressing the edge of that constricting circle through her literary creation. Chopin in her twenties and thirties, married and bearing six children, was living one sort of life but quite another through her forties and early fifties, writing, publishing, and involved in literary society until her death in 1904.
In the first part of her life, although she flouted some social expectations, Chopin conformed. Nee Kate O'Flaherty, she was raised Catholic, spoke her maternal grandmother's Creole French, and read widely. At twenty, she married Oscar Chopin and moved with him to New Orleans. There, from 1870 to 1879, she lived a comfortable middle-class life, bearing five sons. During their New Orleans years, the Chopins socialized with both New Orleans Americans and