Woman of the Week
This is the third in a series of pieces in honor of Women’s History Month in which we asked each of our editors to discuss her favorite historical female heroine. Kelly Keenan Trumpbour chose writer Kate Chopin.
Out of all the women in history, why did you choose Kate Chopin as your personal favorite?
There are so many women throughout history that deserve to be recognized, but I picked Kate Chopin because I remember the impact her work had on me the first time I read it. I was 17, and I found myself caring so deeply for her characters – women who were supposed to be twice my age and who existed a century before I did. And, yet, she had timeless insight into how women think and feel about the world around them. She accomplished what I believe are the highest achievements of any writer: she not only crafted a beautifully written work of art, but her characters came alive and conveyed a message about society to the reader.
Describe briefly the impact she made/legacy she left?
In the way that Upton Sinclair made real the horrors of the poor working class, Kate Chopin reached inside the minds and hearts of women who were battling to claim their own identity in a world that gave them no means of expression beyond motherhood and marriage. The main difference between the two writers, beyond their gender, was the fact that Upton Sinclair’s book led to the passage of legislation and was heralded as a necessary instrument of social justice. Chopin’s most famous work, The Awakening, met with scalding criticism, was banned from libraries and did not resurface as an important feminist text until the 1960s.
It’s the story of a woman dissatisfied with her marriage who sees that she can’t commit to the preordained life handed to her and all women of the 19th century. It’s about wanting more and not accepting society’s definitions. Now, by wanting “more,” I’m not talking about unbridled ambition. Chopin’s characters were looking for ways to use their brains, passions and spirit outside of traditional roles. They met with misery when they could no longer conform. Chopin also painted a portrait of how illogical and paralyzing women’s choices were during her lifetime.
What were the biggest obstacles she overcame?
When The Awakening was published in 1899, five years before her death, the critics claimed the story was “morbid” and “not healthy.” However, she continued to write and was published in Vogue, The Saturday Evening Post and The Atlantic Monthly. Kate Chopin also had six children in the span of nine years.
If she were alive today, what do you think she would be doing? What would she think of women’s status today?
She was really ahead of her time in so many ways. I think she would look at the progress women have made, and be very proud. If she were alive today, I believe she would be writing with even greater abandon, observing the status of women in our world now.
What’s a little-known fact you think everyone should know about Kate Chopin?
After 12 years of marriage, her husband died, and she was left to assume all management of his business affairs. She lived in post Civil War Louisiana, and her husband was a cotton magnate who ran a plantation. She worked with sharecroppers of all races, ran the plantation and took care of six children.