Friday, March 5, 2010

A Respectable Woman

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

By the early 1890s, Kate O’Flaherty Chopin had gained national prominence publishing pleasant sketches of local color—Creole stories—but she soon found the genre too restrictive. Her later work dealt with more mature themes, featuring young female protagonists trapped in traditional domestic settings, released by newfound independence, torn by emotional awakenings, or tempted by the stirrings of “guilty love”—to use the euphemism coined by William Dean Howells.

As Chopin expanded the boundaries of her fiction, she met the resistance of editors like Howells, who rhetorically asked (referring to Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina), “what editor of what American magazine would print such a story?” According to biographer Emily Toth, while Chopin’s more daring stories were rejected by such magazines as The Atlantic and Harper's, many were gladly published by the society magazine Vogue, which “became her vehicle for escaping the ‘charming’ label attached to her work” and which permitted her “to experiment with a more radical realism.” As the decade progressed, Vogue “deliberately set itself against the censorious” and showcased Chopin’s stories, paying her “better and better rates.” One of these stories, “A Respectable Woman” (1894), describes a woman who is both attracted to her husband’s friend and unsettled by that attraction.

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Mrs. Baroda was a little provoked to learn that her husband expected his friend, Gouvernail, up to spend a week or two on the plantation. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.


Anonymous said...

It says, "Read the whole story--free!" But the story seems to have ended abruptly, in mid thought, after only four pages. Do you think this is really the whole story? Did she overcome her desire for Gouvernail? Or was she planning an advance on him? If this is an example of how she normally writes, I don't think I'd enjoy the incomplete feeling.

Anonymous said...

Yep, that's the whole story. Chopin is a writer of the mind. Much of what happens is in the mind of the character, not fully explained, and meant to be empathized with at an emotional level, IMO. Also, frankly, I don't think this is her best work. Look to "Desiree's Baby" or "The Story of an Hour."

The Library of America said...

I very nearly selected "Desiree's Baby" for this week's story, but decided upon this one instead because it is not as widely known and because it was the first of a series of "morally ambiguous" stories Chopin wrote for Vogue.

I'll use "Desiree's Baby" as the story for a future week.

Anonymous said...

this is the first I have read choplin's work. I found it to be quite entertaining and chuckled at the abrupt ending.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was complete, though it has an open ending. Quick enjoyable read. First of Chopin's work for me; looking forward to "Desiree's Baby".

Anonymous said...

Open to inner life,
feel breath instill,
surge aware fruition
and engulf desire.

Suppress the thought,
Repress the tide.
Circles the moon,
Wells up all feeling.