Kate Chopin (1850–1904)
From Kate Chopin: Complete Novels & Stories
St. Louis native Kate Chopin was born 169 years ago today (February 8).
Most of her best-known works of fiction are set in the Cane River region of northwest Louisiana’s Natchitoches Parish. Yet Chopin actually lived there for only five of her fifty-four years.
In 1879 she and her husband, Oscar, moved with their five young boys to his family estate in Cloutierville. (She gave birth to their only daughter shortly after they arrived.) When her husband died of yellow fever in 1882, she attempted on her own to raise six children and run Oscar’s businesses, including the general store, which presumably provided her with opportunities to listen to stories and gossip from many of the local residents. After two years, however, she was forced to admit defeat and moved back to St. Louis.
Her first stories set in Louisiana began to appear a decade later and featured characters drawn from the region’s various ethnicities: the aristocratic white French Creoles, the mixed-race “Creoles of Color,” the white Cajuns of French-Canadian descent, and former slaves who worked as tenant farmers. As we discuss in the introduction to our Story of the Week selection, sometimes Chopin was a bit vague about a character’s ethnicity, and your interpretation of “Ozème’s Holiday” will depend on whether you accept the traditional view that Ozème is a white Cajun or decide, as some recent scholars argue, that he is a Creole of Color. Regardless, it’s a remarkable story—heartwarming and amusing in equal measure.