2016 Reading List #48: At Fault, by Kate Chopin

I think it’s time we all just take a moment to recognize the joy that is reading Kate Chopin’s works.

I think I’m a little late to the game with Chopin, especially as far as English students are concerned, but I love her. True, deep love.

In high school, I only encountered her short story “The Story of an Hour,” partially because I opted to read something else over The Awakening. I only read The Awakening a few years ago, but I think I had a much better appreciation for the novel with a bit more maturity than the other people who hated it when we were juniors in high school. High school students aren’t really prepared to like novels in which things don’t end happily, but my 21-year-old self could handle it.

In college (and grad school), I revisited “The Story of an Hour” more than once and became acquainted with “The Storm,” which is perhaps the steamiest way you can spend 10 minutes of reading.

I received the Chopin’s complete novels and stories for Christmas and hadn’t gone too deep into it until a few days ago when I was inspired to jump in with At Fault, the first of Chopin’s two novels, originally published in 1890.

To say Kate Chopin is a badass is probably one of the most objective assessments of her character. She was crazy smart, kept a sassy journal, survived the deaths of siblings, parents, and her husband, had six kids in eight years, dealt with the massive debt left to her after her husband’s untimely death, had hushed affairs with men while maintaining a living to provide for her family, and wrote some really great early feminist literature.

At Fault, Chopin’s first published work, wasn’t even written until after she had her kids and lost her husband, and since she died at the age of 54, that’s pretty impressive. When the novel was rejected, she paid for its publication herself.

Did I mention that I love her?

I think one of the craziest things about Chopin’s writing is how very approachable it is—both in terms of content and style—more than a century after original publication. Her stories are often romantic in nature and she’s incredibly bold in the way she addresses female sexuality. I can’t believe there hasn’t been greater effort to adapt her works into TV or film because her writing feels very contemporary.

The only aspect of this novel that really ages it is some of the language used to describe the black servants. Chopin spent plenty of her adult life on a plantation in Louisiana, so it’s not exactly surprising that the treatment of black characters wouldn’t be great, but her clear feminist stance might make you hope she’d write something a bit more tolerant. The best thing to note about her black characters is that they seem much more significant and involved than in many other pieces of Civil War-era writing, but there’s still something to be desired here.

Now that I’ve finished At Fault, I’ve decided to continue through this collection to Bayou Folk, a collection of Chopin’s short stories. I’ll likely be pairing a novel with this reading since balancing short stories and a novel is fairly easy and gets me reading more. Funny how easy self motivation comes when it’s about reading…

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