Friday, March 5, 2010

A Respectable Woman

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

*   *   *
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.