Toth (English/Louisiana State Univ.), who nine years ago chronicled the life of Grace Metalious (Inside Peyton Place), now offers an exhaustive, appreciative biography of the author of the The Awakening (1899). Beautiful, fascinating, rebellious Kate Chopin, born in 1850 to slave-owners, educated in a Catholic convent, found freedom in marriage at age 20 to the charming, educated, and wealthy Oscar Chopin. After an extended European honeymoon, she settled in New Orleans, where in ten years she bore five sons and one daughter before moving to the small French-speaking village of Cloutierville. There, her husband died of malaria, leaving her a widow at age 32. Chopin moved to St. Louis and began writing stories that drew on her Southern experience, the Creole customs, language, and sensuality of life along the Bayou, and her adulterous affair with a drunkard and womanizer. Finding her audience through magazines and newspapers, she became part of the salons of the intellectual elite, acquired many male admirers (possibly lovers), few female ones, and cultivated her eccentric image, which included costumes, smoking, long nocturnal walks, and cards. As Toth shows, Chopin wrote easily and well, inspired in part by Maupassant, but drawing mostly on her own experience as a passionate woman, undomestic, aggressive, restless, instinctive. The Awakening, which resembles an American Madame Bovary, brought her more notoriety than acclaim, and accounts for the revival of interest in her work led by young feminists in the 60's. She died two days after visiting the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, surrounded by her children. Chopin was not a reformist, and it is a tribute to Toth that in this fine work, which establishes every analogue between Chopin's life and art, she captures her subject's charm and free spirit without using her as a feminist cause.
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