Kate Chopin’s Short Short Stories — On the Verge(s) of Narrative

  • Janet Beer


In the early 1890s Kate Chopin wrote a number of brief fictional pieces which are at first sight on the margins of consideration for the title of ‘story’. The majority of these very short short stories could be relatively easily situated as fables, sketches, parables or vignettes, varieties of narrative which might be read as having some pedagogic intent in drawing a simple moral or enforcing a point. Such a designation of her fiction as didactic would be at odds, however, with the way in which Chopin constructed herself as writer1 and with the way in which she has always been read: for instance, the absence of authorial moral comment and judgement in The Awakening was one of the grounds upon which the novel was attacked by its earliest readers. A profile of Kate Chopin written by her friend, William Schuyler, for The Writer in August 1894 makes particular mention of Chopin’s attitude to the work of a fellow novelist in order to make this very point: ‘She has great respect for Mrs Humphrey Ward’s achievements; but Mrs Ward is, au fond, a reformer, and such tendency in a novelist she considers a crime against good taste’.2 Fiction written with a didactic intent was, as will be seen in discussion of the work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a familiar mode in the larger field of women’s writing in the 19th century.


Natural World Short Story Complete Work Figurative Language Maple Tree 
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  1. 1.
    See Kate Chopin’s disclaimer of responsibility for the eventual fate of Edna Pontellier in Book News of May 28 1890 as reprinted in Seyersted, Per and Emily Toth (eds). A Kate Chopin Miscellany (Nachitoches: Northwestern State University Press, 1979), p. 137: ‘Having a group of people at my disposal, I thought it might be entertaining (to myself) to throw them together and see what would happen. I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things and working out her own damnation as she did. If I had had the slightest intimation of such a thing I would have excluded her from the company. But when I found out what she was up to, the play was half over and it was then too late.’Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Lohafer, Susan Coming to Terms with the Short Story (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983), p. 94.Google Scholar
  3. 23.
    Much critical attention has been paid to the relationship between Chopin’s work and the poetry of Walt Whitman, particularly the theme of awakening into a new, spiritual life as expressed, primarily, in The Awakening. See Leary, Lewis, Southern Excursions: Essays on Mark Twain and Others (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971)Google Scholar
  4. and Ringe, Donald, ‘Romantic Imagery in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening’, American Literature 43 (1972), pp. 580–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 31.
    Fusco, Richard Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of Form at the Turn of the Century (University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 146–7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Janet Beer 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet Beer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishRoehampton InstituteLondonUK

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