Kate Chopin (1850–1904)
From Kate Chopin: Complete Novels & Stories
Within years after her death, Kate Chopin was all but forgotten, her books all out of print. If readers knew of her at all, they remembered the tale “Désirée’s Baby,” which was still ubiquitous in anthologies of American short stories. In 1962, however, the renowned literary critic Edmund Wilson included Chopin among the thirty writers surveyed in his massive Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War, and he singled out The Awakening as “quite uninhibited and beautifully written.” Noting that the novel anticipates by more than a decade the work of D. H. Lawrence, he adds, “It is a very odd book to have been written in America at the end of the nineteenth century.”
Upset that he had been forced to read some of Chopin’s work on microfilm at the Library of Congress, Wilson encouraged Per Seyersted, “a young Norwegian studying in the United States” who had written a short paper on Chopin, to undertake a larger study of her writings. Seyersted took the suggestion to heart and published both the The Complete Works of Kate Chopin and a full-length biography in 1969, and Chopin is now widely known to readers—and to students—for far more than a single story.
About that story: when “Désirée’s Baby” was published in 1893 in the fifth issue of Vogue magazine, it was only the first segment of a two-part selection titled “Character Studies: The Father of Désirée’s Baby—The Lover of Mentine.” The other episode, which Chopin had originally titled “A Visit to Avoyelles,” was one of her several stories subverting the stereotypes that shaped the depiction of women in nineteenth-century literature—in this case, as the literary scholar Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt puts it, the “myth of the helpless woman who must be saved from her wretched condition by the rescuing masculine hero.”
We present “A Visit to Avoyelles” as our Story of the Week selection, with an introduction describing how Vogue became a home for Kate Chopin stories that were too controversial to be published in other magazines.