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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin, born on February 8, 1850, spent most of her life in St. Louis, although she is known for her stories of Louisiana Cajun and Creole life. Her mother, Eliza Faris, came from an aristocratic French Creole family, while her father, Thomas O'Flaherty, was an Irish immigrant who worked hard and became prosperous before his early death (1855) in a train accident. Kate attended Catholic school, spent time with her French Creole grandmother, and had a decided interest in musical arts and reading in both English and French. Being a proper Southern young woman of the upper class, she supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. But she was not an uncomplicated belle; she chafed, early on, at the confines of women in a man's world. She wrote in her diaries about interesting women she met, and of her adventures traveling. At her introduction to society in 1868, she was considered not only beautiful, but intelligent, fun, and clever. At nineteen, she married Oscar Chopin, a Creole cotton trader, and moved to New Orleans, where she continued her life of interest and investigation.
In 1879, Oscar's business failed, and the family moved to a Louisiana plantation. They had six children, and Chopin seemed to thrive in her role of wife, mother, and neighbor. But her husband fell ill and died in 1883, and she did not take his absence well.
Kate Chopin returned to St. Louis with her children and began reading a surprising array of books, from Darwin to Sarah Orne Jewett. Her first attempts at writing--brief sketches for a local newspaper--were short descriptions of her life in Louisiana. But her interests had always run along more "risky" lines, as reflected in her diaries, letters, and fictions. Her most common subject was female subjugation and freedom. When The Awakening appeared in 1899, Chopin was severely criticized for depicting a sexualized and independent-thinking woman who questioned her role within the southern patriarchy. The stark disapproval surprised Chopin, and she never quite recovered her faith in her own work. Until the time of her death, on August 22, 1904, she wrote and published very little.