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The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival

Bernard Koloski

Publication Year: 2009

One of the most often repeated anecdotes about the direction of literary studies over the past three decades concerns a graduate student who complained of reading Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in three classes and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick in none. But Chopin has not always been featured in the literary curriculum. Though she achieved national success in her lifetime (1850–1904) as a writer of Louisiana “local color” fiction, after her death her work fell into obscurity until 1969, when Norwegian literary scholar Per Seyersted published The Complete Works of Kate Chopin and sparked a remarkable American literary revival. Chopin soon became a major presence in the canon, and today every college textbook surveying American literature contains a Chopin short story, her novel The Awakening, or an excerpt from it. In this unique work, twelve prominent Chopin scholars reflect on their parts in the Kate Chopin revival and its impact on their careers. A generation ago, against powerful odds, many of them staked their reputations on the belief—now fully validated—that Chopin is one of America’s essential writers. These scholars energetically sponsored Chopin’s works in the 1970s and 1980s and encouraged reading, studying, and teaching Chopin. They wrote books and articles about her, gave talks about her, offered interviews to newspapers and magazines, taught her works in their classes, and urged their colleagues to do the same, helping to build a network of teachers, students, editors, journalists, librarians, and others who continue to promote Chopin’s work. Throughout, these essays stress several elements vital to the revival’s success. Timing proved critical, as the rise of the women’s movement and the emergence of new sexual norms in the 1960s helped set an ideal context for Chopin in the United States and abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. Seyersted’s biography of Chopin and his accurate texts of her entire oeuvre allowed scholars to quickly publish their analyses of her work. Popular media—including Redbook, New York Times, and PBS—took notice of Chopin and advanced her work outside the scholarly realm. But in the final analysis, as the contributors point out, Kate Chopin’s irresistible writing itself made her revival possible. Highly personal, at times amusing, and always thought provoking, these revealing recollections and new critical insights offer a fascinating firsthand account of a decisive moment in American literary history.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Southern Literary Studies

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. 1-11

No other American book was so maligned, neglected for so long, and then embraced so quickly and with such enthusiasm as Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening. And none has been so thoroughly redeemed as...

Part 1: Feminisms

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pp. 13-93

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1. My Part in Reviving Kate Chopin

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pp. 15-31

“You should read this,” said my friend Annette Stadd, slipping a small orange-covered paperback into my book bag. I barely got a peek at the cover drawing—a lady with a chignon—before we rejoined the chant “U.S. Out of...

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2. Linked Fortunes: Kate Chopin, the Short Story (and Me)

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pp. 32-46

As for so many others, my first encounter with Kate Chopin was a tip from a colleague—“You gotta read this!” Or, more specifically, “Put this one in your syllabus!” It was the mid-seventies. I had just finished my PhD at a venerable...

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3. Bringing Kate Chopin to Britain: A Transatlantic Perspective

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pp. 47-60

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, in Britain as well as the United States, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening is now one of the most widely read and critically discussed works of fiction and also one of those most studied in literature courses...

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4. Creating the New American Library's Awakening

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pp. 61-76

Since The Awakening is now regularly referred to as a classic of American literature as well as a classic of women’s studies, it might be helpful to describe some of the qualities associated with a literary “classic.” The one of greatest importance...

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5. So Long As We Read Chopin

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pp. 77-93

I was a poor graduate student living in a cold-water basement flat in a city in which I did not speak the majority language. I had just that day found a paperback copy of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a book I had seen passing reference...

Part 2: Foundations

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pp. 95-154

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6. My Life with Kate Chopin

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pp. 97-111

Writing about how Kate Chopin and her fiction entered my life and the lives I’ve touched professionally in the critical and social context of a generation ago suggests not only that something significant had occurred in the world of letters...

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7. On First Looking (and Looking Once Again) into Chopin's Fiction: Kate and Ernest and “A Pair of Silk Stockings”

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pp. 112-130

Of course, neither Hemingway’s gender nor his general (I would argue undeserved) reputation for misogyny would seem to hold out much hope that his remarks on writing could tell us anything we need to know about how to read a...

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8. The Death of Edna Pontellier and the Card Catalog

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pp. 131-140

In 1976 my bibliography of Kate Chopin’s writings was published by G. K. Hall as part of Joseph Katz’s Reference Guides in Literature. The volume, Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin: A Reference Guide, was largely devoted to Edith Wharton,...

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9. Romantic Overtures

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pp. 141-154

Kate Chopin entered my life more than twenty years ago when I inherited a Women in Fiction course at Tulane. It had been a popular class, and as the departing instructor handed me her syllabus, she pointed to one writer in particular...

Part 3: Expansions

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10. Kate Chopin and the Future of Short Fiction Studies

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pp. 157-172

Since learning about the plan to revisit Kate Chopin, I have been asking myself why an essay on this writer has appeared in each of my three books on short fiction theory even though I have never considered myself...

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11. Reckoning with Race in The Awakening

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pp. 173-183

When I was in high school and college in the 1960s, no one I knew had ever heard of Kate Chopin. She first came to my attention in 1973, when I was a graduate student in English at the University of Nebraska– Lincoln. It was a sign...

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12. Feeling the Countercurrent

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pp. 184-199

The undertow in Kate Chopin’s fiction has absorbed me for thirty years. Chopin’s best-known stories speak of women’s struggles for better lives—for independence, fulfillment, integrity, intimacy, joy. But deep in some of those works...


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pp. 201-207


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pp. 209-211


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pp. 213-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780807136683
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807143667

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies