Kate Chopin (1851-1904) is one of the truly tragic stories that Literature has to offer. Although she did not end her life in a premature suicide, as far too many of our poets and novelists have done, her particular time of living simply was not ready for her.
When Chopin made her debut into society, she was reluctant to take part in its activities. Finding her time monopolized by social functions-dancing with people she did not like-she struggled to find time for what, at 18, was quickly becoming her passion: writing. After having six children with her husband, Oscar Chopin, Chopin’s time to write dissipated until at last her literary activities had to be postponed entirely. It was not until his death that she was able to enjoy her passion unfettered by marital obligations.
When at last she could spend whole days at a time working on her craft, Chopin was known to produce whole stories in a single sitting. Being averse to revision, feeling that it sucked the life out her stories, many times when a reader picks up a story of Chopin’s, for instance “A Pair of Silk Stockings” or “The Storm,” he or she is finding the exact words Chopin jotted in a flurry upon first inspiration.
A notable exception to the single-day marathon writing processes is Chopin’s most notable and notorious novel The Awakening. Having as its theme the disappointment of life as perceived by a young woman overcome by social obligations and restrictions, the novel was poorly received. Charging the novel with being too openly sexual in its content and disparaging of Southern Creole culture, the reviews literally ended Chopin’s career. Chopin, taking the reviews to heart, wrote little in her last five years of life and died at 53, thinking her literary career had ended disastrously. More than a century after the release of The Awakening in 1899, literary critics contend that Chopin’s career ended on a high note, the novel being touted as a groundbreaking literary achievement.
The tragedy of Chopin’s life, for her, is that she died not knowing the influence she would have on the women’s movement of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. The tragedy of Chopin’s life, for contemporary audiences, is that we can only speculate what great work she could have produced in those five years after the publication of The Awakening and before her early death at the age of 53 in 1904.