Kate Chopin - "The Storm of The Storm"


Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008
20 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Women within the Nineteenth-Century Society
2.1. Criticism on Kate Chopin’s Storm of Sexual Literature
2.2. The Non-existence of Female Self-Hood

3. Kate Chopin: Insight and Skill as a writer
3.1. Parallels of Kate Chopin’s Life and her Fiction
3.2. Passion in “The Storm”
3.3. The Color White
3.4. Kate Chopin’s Statement – Justification of Affairs

4. Conclusion

Bibliography

1. Introduction

“When he touched her breasts they gave themselves up in quivering ecstasy, inviting his lips. Her mouth was a fountain of delight. And when he possessed her, they seemed to swoon together at the very borderland of life's mystery.”[1]

Today, romantic novels are filled with steamy passages like the one above. However, in the time of Kate Chopin it was rarely recognized that women even had sexual desires, let alone could they dare to express them through literature. Even Kate Chopin herself in the diary of her honeymoon did not stray from this convention. Although her marriage was surely consummated, there is no mention of the act throughout her diary. For generations, women had been taught to do certain things to please their husbands. Namely, keeping the household clean, raising the children and tolerating their husbands’ carnal desires. By not only admitting to the possibility that women have strong sexual needs of there own, but stating it as pure reality, Chopin crossed a threshold in both, literature and life that opened new portals of exploration and communication for both men and women. The excerpt mentioned above from Kate Chopin’s “The Storm” is exemplary for her explicit way of dealing with desire and passion. In 1898, she was asked by the St Louis Post-Dispatch whether love is divine or not. She responded to this in an article:

“I am inclined to think that love springs from animal instinct, and therefore is, in a measure, divine. One can never resolve to love this man, this woman or child, and then carry out the resolution unless one feels irresistibly drawn by an indefinable current of magnetism.”[2]

For her time period, Kate Chopin wrote about sexuality very explicitly. In many of her novels she deals with the effects of this `indefinable current of magnetism´, the effects of, mostly female, unrestrained passion; the most shocking topic in terms of the late nineteenth century standards was surely the equal treatment of the sexes. In the 1890s, the publishers regulated the literary world so much so that a woman writing about sexual desires certainly did not play by the rules and appeared to have no interest in publishing and selling her books at all.

“She had begun “The Awakening” in the summer of 1897, at the very peak of her literary powers. After completing the novel in January 1898, she had the very next summer written a story (“The Storm”) whose celebration of sexuality was completely unparalleled in American fiction; evidently knowing that, she never tried to publish it.”[3]

This brings the question to mind, what exactly triggered Kate Chopin to write about sexuality? Even in fiction, the admission of sexuality into women’s experience was particularly difficult for southern women writers. Hardly any other woman of the late nineteenth century wrote so explicitly about sexual desire and passion as did Kate Chopin. The norms of society dictated a predetermined negative response from both publishers and critics. Therefore, questions about firstly, the role of women during that time and moreover, Kate Chopin’s role during that time have to be answered. Kate Chopin was different from the typical author of the late nineteenth century. This discourse will present several of her fundamental differences and the challenges which they present for both publishers and readers alike.

2. Women within the Nineteenth-Century Society

2.1. Criticism on Kate Chopin’s Storm of Sexual Literature

“Even so, however, the irony that has always marked Chopin criticism continued, with critics during that decade describing her as a feminist, a local colorist, a regionalist, a romantic, a neo-transcendentalist, an anti-romantic, a realist, a naturalist and an existentialist.”[4]

Kate Chopin had various effects on critics; some considered her work as inferior, others as revolutionary. Her fiction, particularly that dealing with female sexuality, was not, as a rule, warmly received until the rediscovery of her works during the 1960s. The work `Bayou Folk´, published in 1894, is her first collection, containing twenty-three short stories. Another collection, called `A Night in Acadie´, which contained twenty-one short stories, followed in 1897. Kate Chopin was a prolific writer who composed a large number of varied literary works.

“Between 1888 and 1904, she produced three novels, some one hundred stories, various sketches, poems, a one-act play, and several critical essays, many of these written in her living room while she was surrounded by her children.”[5]

The short stories written and published in her first two compilations had been popular at that time. Many of the stories found high approval and supporters full of praise, but others were depicted as local color and minor; as they were pieces of literature mainly written for the larger class of people, the public, who could not or were unwilling to deal with more challenging works.

`Some of the stories were dismissed as superficial, sentimental or conventional- and indeed some of them deserve that reputation.´[6]

In 1899, the novel `The Awakening´ followed. It was as well known as the first two published books, but resulted in negative publicity. When it came to her literary skills, neither adherent critic nor just plain reader stated that the novel was not written well. The fundamental problem was the amoral or even immoral implications.

”Chopin’s reputation and self- confidence were both apparently undermined by this negative response, and even though it is possible to over-state the injuries inflicted on her career by the novel’s poor showing, there seems little doubt that damage was done.”[7]

Undoubtedly, the massive critique on `The Awakening´ was a huge set back for Chopin. She had to deal with this kind of new depiction of her as a writer; this critique also affected her personal life. When it comes to receiving criticism, it is natural and human that a writer is deeply connected by his personal feelings; at least something of ones character always flows into the work. It can, therefore, be concluded that she wrote her proposed third collection of stories, `A Vocation and a Voice´, although she must have had doubts as to whether it would be published. Indeed, her editors decided to suspend publication of `A Vocation and a Voice´. It was not until 1991, 87 years after her death, that this, her third collection of short stories, was published.

In 1898, Kate Chopin wrote the short story “The Storm”. She was aware of the provocative nature of the subject matter and never submitted it for publication. After her grandson found it many years later in his attic, it was published for the first time in “The Complete Works of Kate Chopin” in 1969. Even her first biographer failed to mention its existence. By the late 1960´s, the story was highly praised, but society had changed and was not as andocentric as it had been in 1898. In the nineteenth century, Chopin’s fiction had an entirely different effect on the critics. Her contemporaries had been completely disturbed by the sexual openness of her fiction, whereas feminists of the 1960s praised her loudly. Moreover, the pioneering scholarship of Per Seyerstedt and the biography of Emily Toth helped to raise accessibility of Chopin’s work. Both offered detailed, verifiable and conjectural background on her artistic development and influences. This brought Kate Chopin back into discussion and into the interest of literary circles, which in turn called attention to yet unpublished short stories, such as `The Story of an hour´. It is not far-fetched to call this reviving the basis for today’s approval of her works and the elevation of `The Awakening´ to classic status.

“”The Awakening” may be the quintessential text for a course in women’s studies. Greeted with polite dismay at its publication in 1899, revived and hailed as a lost classic sixty years later on the crest of the most recent women’s movement (…).”[8]

Today, the novel is widely recognized as one of the masterpieces of American fiction and Kate Chopin as an important early protagonist for women’s rights.

2.2. The Non-existence of Female Self-Hood

In order to understand the complete opposite effects Chopin’s fiction had had on 1890s society, the society itself has to be examined first. Kate Chopin aligned herself in an exploration with the beginning of a new generation of female writers, such as Mary Wilkins Freeman, Sarah Jewett, Mary Catherwood and Mary Austin. Every one of these writers tried to express their own conflicted answers to the positive and restrictive aspects of domestic culture. These writers are widely seen as an expression of the rebellion against Victorian culture, moreover, against the cult of self-sacrificing and asexual motherhood. In the same way as Kate Chopin, they all wanted to articulate their inner need for and emerging sense of the independent selfhood of women. This rebellion could be effectively, but still quietly, orchestrated by literature: “(…) chiefly through sexual means- by heightening sexual consciousness, candor and expression. (qtd in Showalter 69)”[9]. Considering this, the emerging sense of self-creation can be seen as a battle for female selfhood with motherhood as an equivocal adversary. Patriarchy during this century was omni-present; the following exemplifies the notion of male superiority and was the exact foundation on which Chopin’s society was built:

“It is indeed romantic to imagine to that colonial or pre-industrial American women suffered no subordination of self and will. To the contrary, early democratic statemakers such as Thomas Jefferson, for example, made clear that three classes would always be excluded from power: children, slaves and women.”[10]

Exemplary on this statement, it is likely to say that women were not seen as self-contained individuals, they are more or less the “other half” of men, as Simone de Beauvoir stated. “Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer of American life, noted in his chapter ”Of Individualism in Democratic Countries” that “Individualism is a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth.”[11] This new idea that Tocqueville spoke of was one of the most important ones of the nineteenth century. The notion of self-hood, individualism and independence gave the men of the nineteenth century a whole new view upon themselves. It was mind-altering, but only for men, for only men were meant. It was not until the end of this century that woman began to take this idea of individuality and apply it to themselves.

[...]


[1] Chopin, Kate. The Storm. Page 631, line 47ff.

[2] Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Studies in Short Fiction. Page 40, lines 23ff.

[3] Ewell, Barbara C. In: The Southern Quarterly. Page 7, line 20ff.

[4] Skaggs, Peggy. Page 7, line 4ff.

[5] Papke, Mary E. Kate Chopin’s Life and Art. Page 22, lines 8ff.

[6] Evans, Robert C. Kate Chopin’s Fiction. A Critical Companion. Page xii, line 19ff.

[7] Evans, Robert C. Kate Chopin’s Fiction. A Critical Companion. Page xi, line 8ff.

[8] Ewell; Barbara. Approaches to teaching. Page 86.

[9] Ewell, Barbara. Introduction. In: The Southern Quarterly. Page 33, line 25f.

[10] Papke, Mary E. Page 2, line 8ff.

[11] Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin and the Dream of Female Selfhood. In: Kate Chopin Reconsidered- Beyond the Bayou. Page 157, lines 1f.

Excerpt out of 20 pages

Details

Title
Kate Chopin - "The Storm of The Storm"
College
University of Tubingen  (Eberhard Karls-Universität Tübingen und University of North Texas)
Course
Seminar American Short Stories
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2008
Pages
20
Catalog Number
V121967
ISBN (eBook)
9783640271252
File size
439 KB
Language
English
Tags
Kate, Chopin, Storm, Seminar, American, Short, Stories
Quote paper
Kerstin Krauss (Author), 2008, Kate Chopin - "The Storm of The Storm", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/121967

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