Friday, September 17, 2010

Désirée’s Baby

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

In January 1893, Vogue published the up-and-coming writer Kate Chopin for the first time, featuring two of her stories in their January 14 issue. Both stories proved popular with readers, and Vogue would ultimately publish nineteen of her stories during the coming decade. One of the two debuts, “Désirée’s Baby,” with its bold treatment of race, marked a change for an author that had become known for her pleasant “Creole tales.” Set in a slave-owning plantation household, with a master whose “rule was a strict one,” Chopin’s bold treatment of race deliberately inventories the differences among the inhabitants: negroes, dark, yellow, quadroon, fair, La Blanche, white—arbitrary distinctions that would lead inexorably to the story’s tragic outcome.

A sensation upon its publication, “Désirée’s Baby,” has remained her most critically acclaimed, commonly anthologized, and widely known story until the present day. As early as 1906, the author of the Library of Southern Literature called it “one of the most perfect short stories in English.” Fred Lewis Pattee, in his ground-breaking 1915 survey, History of American Literature since 1870, compared Chopin to such French writers as Maupassant and Flaubert and exclaimed that the story, “with its culminating sentence that stops for a moment the reader’s heart, is well nigh perfect.” Daniel Rankin, who in 1932 would write the only full-length book on Chopin until her “rediscovery” in the 1960s, agreed, “Perhaps it is one of the world’s best short stories.” And in 1978, Cynthia Griffin Woolf, concluded that it is “a superb piece of short fiction—an economical, tight psychological drama.”

Note: A corbeille is a basket of gifts from a groom to his bride; cochon de lait ("milk pig") is a piglet.

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As the day was pleasant, Madame Valmondé drove over to L’Abri to see Désirée and the baby.

It made her laugh to think of Désirée with a baby. Why, it seemed but yesterday that Désirée was little more than a baby herself; when Monsieur in riding through the gateway of Valmondé had found her lying asleep in the shadow of the big stone pillar. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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