Back Kate Chopin, “Her Letters”

Kate Chopin (1850–1904)
From Kate Chopin: Complete Novels & Stories

Old Letters and Dead Leaves, 1875, oil on canvas by British artist Claude Andrew Calthrop (1845–1893). (The Athenaeum)

In 1889 William Dean Howells commented on the daring subject matter increasingly found in such European novels as Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina and in short stories by writers like Guy de Maupassant. The new realism presented a quandary for publishers in the U.S. “A book is something by itself,” but “what editor of what American magazine would print such a story?” He explained, “Between the editor of a reputable English or American magazine and the families which receive it there is a tacit agreement that he will print nothing which a father may not read to his daughter, or safely leave her to read herself.”

Heavily influenced by Maupassant, Kate Chopin was one of the authors whose stories were becoming more adventurous—and she had found the answer to Howell’s question. By the mid-1890s her stories were regularly published by major national magazines, but a number of them were rejected by the likes of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s because they were too daring. When “Her Letters,” which deals with a woman’s adulterous affair, was rejected by The Century, Chopin immediately forwarded it to Vogue, which routinely published her more audacious stories after they had been rejected elsewhere. All told, Vogue published nineteen of her stories, including several of her most famous.

By today’s standards, of course, “Her Letters” is quite tame, although it still packs a powerful punch. We present it here as our Story of the Week selection.

Read “Her Letters” by Kate Chopin

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