Kate Chopin (pronounced SHOW-pan for anyone who’s unsure) was an independent and daring woman. She helped introduce feminist literature to the world during the twentieth century through magazine publications, short stories, and most notably, her novel The Awakening. Learn more about this talented woman below!
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O’Flaherty to an Irish father and an English mother. When she was just five years old, her father was killed in a railroad accident at work. Her mother never remarried, and Chopin was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all of them widows. She received much of her formal education at an all-girls Catholic school and was mentored and taught by nuns for thirteen years.
Chopin spent the majority of her youth surrounded by strong independent females. These women are who helped shape her into the writer and woman she would one day become.
Many of Chopin’s stories were set in Louisiana, where she lived for many years with her husband and children. Kate married Oscar Chopin in 1870, and they quickly started their family. Together they raised six children—five sons and a daughter—until Oscar’s death in 1882. After his death, Kate Chopin was on her own. She continued raising her children and running her husband’s general store alone. Then, in 1885, her mother passed away.
All of these losses inspired Chopin to begin her writing career. She was encouraged by a family friend to begin writing, not only for therapeutic purposes but also as a source of income. She took the advice and channeled her grief into her first novel, At Fault, published in 1890.
As an adult, Kate Chopin wrote more than 100 short stories and essays that appeared in well-known magazines, including Vogue, Atlantic Monthly, and a children’s magazine called Harper’s Young People. She also published two novels, At Fault and The Awakening.
Chopin’s most famous novel, The Awakening, was published in 1899. It is known as one of the first feminist works in literature, but upon publication, the novel brought a lot of controversy. Many viewed the book as scandalous and inappropriate due to the unapologetic attitude of the novel’s female lead, Edna. Edna defied the norms of society in a number of ways, including having an affair. It wasn’t until after Kate Chopin passed away in 1905 that the sensitive and bold subject matter of The Awakening, as well as of a number of Chopin's other short stories, was praised and admired.
Kate Chopin pushed the boundaries of gender and class during the twentieth century. Many of her works centered around strong female characters and their desires, both sexual and emotional. Despite the fact that during her time these topics were taboo and criticized, Chopin never shied away from discussing, normalizing, and encouraging this independent side of women. Classic literature will forever be grateful for female authors like Kate Chopin, who helped to open up and expand the conversation about feminism and feminist literature.