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Chopin, Kate.

Bayou Folk.


Chopin, Kate. Bayou Folk. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1894.
8vo.; contemporary ownership signature on first blank; grey uncoated endpapers; green cloth, spine stamped in gilt; covers lightly rubbed, spine evenly faded; a quite handsome copy.
First edition of Chopin's second book, a collection of short stories, preceded by At Fault, an 1891 novel which was a scandalous critical and commercial failure due to its open treatment of female sexual passion. Bayou Folk, no less shocking-it proved, if anything, more scandalous-was Chopin's first success, gaining her popular recognition and critical acclaim. This copy with two pages of undated publisher's ads bound at rear.
Kate Chopin (née O'Flaherty) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to an Irish father and a French mother in 1851. She married Oscar Chopin, a Louisiana Creole, in 1870, and they moved to New Orleans, which would provide the backdrop for many of Chopin's fictions. Her early work, notably At Fault, was heavily influenced by such diverse sources as Sarah Orne Jewett and Guy de Maupassant. Her reputation would be established as a leading literary regionalist with works like Bayou Folk. This reputation would change drastically with the appearance of The Awakening, which generated a literary scandal the moment it saw print. Like many of Chopin's later works, Bayou Folk is set within the ordinary-yet-extraordinary Creole communities of central Louisiana, and its characters, whose milieu is conjured by Chopin's use of compellingly realistic detail, speak a distinct Creole dialect. Bayou Folk also enhanced Chopin's reputation for mining psychological, moral, sexual and racial themes of the sort not explored by women writers of her era.
Bayou Folk is especially interesting in light of the rediscovery of Chopin's work by feminist literary scholars. According to critic Claire Buck, a "sensual ambiance" pervades all 23 stories (BGWL, p. 420). Specific themes treated in Bayou Folk include childbirth out of wedlock and miscegenation ("Desiree's Baby"); a woman's choice not to marry ("Wiser Than God"); and a love affair between a black slave and a white master which results in the birth of a mixed-race child ("The Benitou's Slave"). Two of the stories particularly foreshadow The Awakening: the ironically-titled "A Shameful Affair," in which Chopin permits her female characters to claim themselves as sexual beings; and the intriguingly-titled "A Rude Awakening," in which Lolette, the black teenaged female protagonist, insists on taking over her father's work in the field. Lolette meets with censure from her community, much like Edna in The Awakening, who also insists on exploring options not generally open to women: sexual autonomy. For both Lolette and Edna, the transgressions, and the townspeople's reactions to them, are literally and irrevocably transformative: each woman flees; each woman gets lost and loses herself; and each ends up submerged in a body of water (Lolette falls into a river, from which she emerges having lost her color, her memory, and, therefore, her identity; Edna, in contrast, doesn't fall but plunges voluntarily into the Grand Isle, choosing a death by drowning over a life lived according to another's rules.

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