Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening

Kate Chopin:  A Re-Awakening

Kate Chopin scandalized the 19th century and triggered a revolution in the 20th. She set her stories in New Orleans and in the bayous and backwaters of Louisiana—a lush Creole world that awakened desire and longings for freedom. Lost for over half a century, her fiction has been unearthed and rediscovered for our time.

This Louisiana Public Broadcasting production revisits the life and work of renowned nineteenth-century Louisiana author Kate Chopin. She is best known for her work The Awakening, the story of a woman's self-realization that shocked the Victorian establishment. Actress Kelly McGillis (Witness) narrates the documentary and actress JoBeth Williams (The Big Chill) reads passages from Chopin's fiction.

A native of Missouri, Kate O'Flaherty married Oscar Chopin, the son of a wealthy Louisiana cotton grower, in 1870 and moved to New Orleans. They later relocated with their six children to the Chopin family home near Cloutierville in Natchitoches Parish. In 1882 Oscar died of swamp fever, and Kate and the children moved back to St. Louis, where she began writing to support the family. Nearly all of her work is set in the areas around New Orleans, Grand Isle and Natchitoches, and provides a vivid window into Louisiana life near the turn of the century.

Her early stories were well-received nationally and earned her literary fame as a "local colorist," even appearing in the first issue of Vogue. However, her career was devastated when The Awakening was published in 1899. It drew a storm of criticism for its "shocking, morbid, and vulgar" story and quickly went out of print. The novel was not resurrected until the 1950s, when its importance was recognized by participants in the growing women's movement. Today The Awakening is among the five most-read American novels in colleges and universities and is considered an early example of American realism.

National and international authorities on Chopin and Southern literature and culture contributed to this program, including Dr. Emily Toth of Louisiana State University; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese of Emory University; Barbara Ewell of Loyola University, New Orleans; R.W.B. Lewis of Yale University; Peggy Prenshaw of Louisiana State University; and Dr. Jean Bardot of France.


Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening was produced by Tika Laudun and Lucille McDowell and directed by Tika Laudun, based on a script by Anna Reid Jhirad. The program was photographed by Rex Fortenberry and edited by Randy Ward, with digital photo restoration and effects by Steve Mitchum. Funding was provided in part by grants from the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

INTERVIEWS

These are exceprts of interviews made during the production of Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening.

LIBRARY

A listing of all the works featured in the documentary, including Chopin's novel The Awakening. Also listed are additional short stories not discussed in the program.

The Awakening - Chopin's major work, a novel, was published in 1899. Since she was well-established as a national writer of note, it was reviewed by all major national critics, who universally condemned it as "shocking" and "immoral." It is the story of a young matron's gradual awakening to her own sexual and individual "being," and longing for an independence that society would not permit her.

Athénaïse - A very young, inexperienced girl marries an older man, but finds married life disagreeable. Missing her own home, and especially her brother, she runs away to New Orleans. After discovering that she's pregnant, she re-evaluates her decision.

Lilacs - A former convent girl marries well and moves to Paris, but ultimately enters the world of the demimondaine. She spends a few happy days each year at the convent until the Mother Superior finally learns of her questionable life in Paris.

A Pair of Silk Stockings - A woman living in near-poverty receives some money unexpectedly, and is torn between essentials for her children and rare indulgences for herself.

A Reflection - The writer admires all those who live life energetically, without needing to reflect and analyze. As for her, she must study "the moving procession," and calls this "sinking by the wayside."

A Respectable Woman - Mrs. Baroda is a bit provoked that an old friend of her husband's will visit for a few weeks. She treats him with disdain at first. Gradually this changes. Surprised at herself, she looks forward longingly to a future visit.

Beyond the Bayou - A large, gaunt black woman had been frightened literally "out of her mind" as a child during the war by the sight of her master, bloodied and covered in mud and debris, escaping from pursuing troops. She limits her life, never leaving the wide yard surrounding her cabin, half-circled by a bayou in front and a forest behind. Years later, she is called upon leave her sanctuary when her former master's son—her favorite visitor—shoots himself while hunting.

Désirée's Baby - Désirée, an abandoned baby, is raised by a fine family. The son of a planter who lives nearby marries her. When their child's features hint of mixed blood, Désirée disappears with the child, and the father orders everything related to his life with her burned.

Ma'ame Pelagie - For the thirty years—since the war—Ma'ame Pelagie has cared for her sister Pauline and for the land and the burnt-out ruins of what was once the finest plantation house on Côte Jouyeuse. Pelagi's aim is to rebuild it, until a niece visits and states she must leave them, for their lifestyle is too circumscribed. Pelagie struggles to relinquish the past and move on.

The Kiss - A young lady is courted by a rich but unattractive man when a friend of her brother kisses her casually. After the rich man withdraws his courtship, the girl seeks him out with hopes of marrying him for his money while maintaining her brother's friend's love.

The Locket - After finding an engraved locket on the neck of a dead Confederate soldier, a priest returns the locket to the girl to whom it belonged. She resigns herself to her beloved's death.

The Story of an Hour - Knowing of Mrs. Mallard's heart trouble, friends try to soften the shock of her husband's death in a train wreck. She retires to her room, weeping, as her emotions quickly change and conflict, only to be faced with the ultimate shock.

La Belle Zoraïde - Zoraïde, a beautiful slave of mixed blood, is cherished by her mistress, who has picked out a husband for her. But Zoraïde loves Mézor, a black slave. Refusing the proposed marriage, Mézor is sold out of state, and fights to keep her child, becoming known as "Zoraïde, la folle."

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CHRONOLOGY

A chronology of key events in Kate Chopin's life.

1850 - Kate Chopin (Katherine O'Flaherty) born on February 8 to Thomas O'Flaherty, an Irish immigrant, and Eliza Faris, a Creole.

1855 - Kate's father dies in a rail accident. Kate begins school at Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis.

1863 - Kate's great-grandmother, Victoire Verdon Charleville, dies. Kate's half-brother, George O'Flaherty, a Confederate soldier, dies of typhoid fever.

1868 - Kate graduates from the Academy of the Sacred Heart.

1869 - Kate visits New Orleans in the spring.

1870 - Kate marries Oscar Chopin on June 9 in St. Louis. Their honeymoon in Europe is cut short by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. The couple moves to New Orleans in October.

1871 - Jean Chopin, the first of Kate's six children, is born on May 22.

1873 - Oscar Chopin Jr. born.

1874 - The Chopins move to the Garden District of New Orleans, and visit Grand Isle in the summer.

1879 - Oscar's cotton business fails, and the Chopins move to Cloutierville, Louisiana. Lelia Chopin born.

1882 - Kate's husband dies of malaria.

1884 - Kate moves back to St. Louis.

1885 - Eliza O'Flaherty, Kate's mother, dies in June.

1888 - Kate writes her first poem, 'If It Might Be,' and begins the story 'Euphraisie.'

1889 - "If It Might Be" is published in the literary and political journal America. Two stories, "Wiser than a God" and "A Point at Issue" published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

1890 - Kate's first novel, At Fault, is published privately.

1891 - Kate unsuccessfully submits the novel Young Dr. Gosse to several publishers. She later destroys the manuscript.

1893 - "Désirée's Baby" published in Vogue.

1894 - Bayou Folk published. Kate writes "Story of an Hour."

1895 - "Athénaise" written.

1896 - "Athénaise" published.

1897 - A Night in Acadie published. Kate begins work on The Awakening in June.

1898 - Kate completes The Awakening in January.

1899 - The Awakening is published, to scathing reviews.

1900 - Kate writes "The Gentleman from New Orleans", and is listed in the first edition of Who's Who in USA.

1904 - Kate visits the Louisiana Purchase Exposition on August 18, where she suffers a stroke. She dies two days later.