Friday, May 24, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 31: Kate Chopin, A Respectable Woman (#10)

Kate Chopin, "A Respectable Woman" (1894) from Kate Chopin:

Do you remember Willa Cather's story "The Garden Lodge," about a woman who put away her romantic side so far that she wouldn't fall in love with an artist who visited? Chopin writes a much shorter version of the story where the visitor is a quiet journalist and the "Respectable Woman" of the title doesn't have a long back-story explaining why she's so anti-romance. Which also helps when Chopin's Mrs. Baroda seems to give in at the end in a subtle remark to her husband that she's overcome not just her dislike of the friend but a whole host of feelings.

Chopin has a dual reputation: as a regional author of New Orleans/Louisiana stories; and as an author of stories about women. And sometimes those two aspects come together, as in The Awakening. Here, while the story nominally takes place in the NO/LA area, there's not much regional color. The focus is all on Baroda and her tension over her attraction to her guest, Gouvernail.

What's interesting about Chopin's super short version of this story is the POV isn't the swooping omniscient 3rd that could tell us everything we need to know about these people and their situation adn how they feel. We get a tight 3rd on the Mrs., which means that Chopin can get away with saying, "She made no reply to this apostrophe to the night, which indeed, was not addressed to her."

If a beginning writer wrote that, I might roll my eyes at the repetition: if it's an apostrophe to the night, then of course it's not addressed to her--that's what apostrophe means (an adress to an absent person or personified thing). But here, since we're sort of in Mrs. Baroda's mind, the doubling of info might hint to us that she's feeling left out without wanting to note that she's feeling left out. That's the conflicting feelings going on.

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