Kate Chopin’s Book and Letters


Published in 1899, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, an upper-class woman living in Louisiana in the 1890s. In the novel, Edna challenges the prevailing moral codes of the late-19th century south as she transforms from a conventional mother into an independent woman who finds purpose outside of the home. Chopin’s own life experiences likely inspired The Awakening. Born in St. Louis on February 8, 1850, she lived in the city through the Civil War. Chopin moved to Louisiana where she faced strict social expectations as both a wife and a mother of five in the late 1800s. Widowed by 32, she remained unmarried and returned to her hometown, where she wrote two novels and around 100 short stories. Much like Edna’s character, Chopin’s life and career challenged gender norms at the turn of the twentieth century.  

            Although Chopin’s short stories and first novel were well-received, The Awakening garnered mixed reactions. Critics condemned the book for being too sexual, improper, and not ascribing to societal expectations of womanhood. The letters included here show support from Chopin’s friends revealing an opposing opinion of the prose. One friend wrote, “Never before has a story affected me so profoundly… Truly in gifted hands like yours, the pen is mightier than the sword.” For all its controversy, the novel remains a powerful example of Missouri’s literary tradition. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening stands among the works of other Missouri-born authors like Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, T.S. Elliot, and Maya Angelou.  

Object Details

Categories: Arts & Culture, People

Creator: Kate Chopin

Date: 1899

Subject: Chopin, Kate, 1850-1904

Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society

Copy Request: Transmission or reproduction of items on these pages beyond those allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the Missouri Historical Society: 314-746-4510

Rights: The text and images contained in this collection are intended for research and educational use only. Duplication of any of these images for commercial use without express written consent is expressly prohibited. Contact the Missouri Historical Society's Permissions Office at 314-746-4511 to obtain written consent.

Region: St. Louis Metro

Type: Book and Documents

Language: English

Latitude: 38.948613

Longitude: -92.330348