I found a nice drawing of Chopin in the March 10th, 1895 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (page 20/21). Have a look below. “The Story of an Hour” follows after the foreword, a story that won’t take long for you to finish.
Foreword: by Shane Lambert
Kate Chopin was an American writer who earned some plaudits for her fiction late in the 19th century. She was from Missouri, she lived between 1850 and 1904, and my first familiarity with her work came in what was high school. If I recall, my English teacher included “The Story of An Hour” as required reading.
The short story tells of a woman who “sometimes” loves her husband. When she, Louise Mallard, learns that her husband Brently had his ‘picture-making mechanism’ smashed in from a train accident, her feelings are not all negative. In fact, after the initial grief, she seems happy to have a life to herself, one that she does not have to compromise on.
The short story does stand out for me from one point of view. Considered an early example of feminist writing, this may, in fact, may be a misread of the story.
Chopin is a female writer writing about how relationships can be both coercive and freedom restricting. That she employs a female protagonist, for some, might scream “feminism.” Yet, “The Story of An Hour” should not be read in that way.
Consider the following excerpt. It comes after Louise Mallard, the female protagonist in the story, learns that her husband is dead:
“There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending her in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.”
If Chopin was writing about a controlling husband and a victim wife then she would have written it this like:
“There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men
and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.”
Chopin seems to be writing about relationships in and of themselves and independent of sex: it’s not men or women in particular that restrict one another, “bending” is just inherent in a marriage. There’s some open-mindedness with Chopin because she doesn’t just limit the restrictions of relationships to the perspective of her own sex and her own personal life experiences. Rather, in this short story she demonstrates some empathy. I definitely appreciate her for it partly because I am a man that shares Louise Mallard’s point of view on relationships: I don’t like having to compromise either.
I don’t see the following story as inherently feminist. Rather, I think we can step back from that and see Louise Mallard as an individual that either men or women alike can relate to.
Read “The Story of an Hour” by Kate ChopinTweet
Did you know “The Story of an Hour” was also called “Dream of an Hour?” The inset snippet is from the March 26th, 1904 Vermont Journal. Page 2. I wonder if that title was in bad taste as it made the death of Brently Mallard seem idyllic?
The story of an hour
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.
It was her sister Josephine who told her, in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing. Her husband’s friend Richards was there, too, near her. It was he who had been in the newspaper office when intelligence of the railroad disaster was received, with Brently Mallard’s name leading the list of “killed.” He had only taken the time to assure himself of its truth by a second telegram, and had hastened to forestall any less careful, less tender friend in bearing the sad message.
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.
There stood, facing the open window, a comfortable, roomy armchair. Into this she sank, pressed down by a physical exhaustion that haunted her body and seemed to reach into her soul.
She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life. The delicious breath of rain was in the air. In the street below a peddler was crying his wares. The notes of a distant song which some one was singing reached her faintly, and countless sparrows were twittering in the eaves.
There were patches of blue sky showing here and there through the clouds that had met and piled one above the other in the west facing her window.
She sat with her head thrown back upon the cushion of the chair, quite motionless, except when a sob came up into her throat and shook her, as a child who has cried itself to sleep continues to sob in its dreams.
She was young, with a fair, calm face, whose lines bespoke repression and even a certain strength. But now there was a dull stare in her eyes, whose gaze was fixed away off yonder on one of those patches of blue sky. It was not a glance of reflection, but rather indicated a suspension of intelligent thought.
There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it? She did not know; it was too subtle and elusive to name. But she felt it, creeping out of the sky, reaching toward her through the sounds, the scents, the color that filled the air.
Now her bosom rose and fell tumultuously. She was beginning to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess her, and she was striving to beat it back with her will–as powerless as her two white slender hands would have been. When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under hte breath: “free, free, free!” The vacant stare and the look of terror that had followed it went from her eyes. They stayed keen and bright. Her pulses beat fast, and the coursing blood warmed and relaxed every inch of her body.
She did not stop to ask if it were or were not a monstrous joy that held her. A clear and exalted perception enabled her to dismiss the suggestion as trivial. She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her arms out to them in welcome.
There would be no one to live for during those coming years; she would live for herself. There would be no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence with which men and women believe they have a right to impose a private will upon a fellow-creature. A kind intention or a cruel intention made the act seem no less a crime as she looked upon it in that brief moment of illumination.
And yet she had loved him–sometimes. Often she had not. What did it matter! What could love, the unsolved mystery, count for in the face of this possession of self-assertion which she suddenly recognized as the strongest impulse of her being!
“Free! Body and soul free!” she kept whispering.
Josephine was kneeling before the closed door with her lips to the keyhold, imploring for admission. “Louise, open the door! I beg; open the door–you will make yourself ill. What are you doing, Louise? For heaven’s sake open the door.”
“Go away. I am not making myself ill.” No; she was drinking in a very elixir of life through that open window.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.
She arose at length and opened the door to her sister’s importunities. There was a feverish triumph in her eyes, and she carried herself unwittingly like a goddess of Victory. She clasped her sister’s waist, and together they descended the stairs. Richards stood waiting for them at the bottom.
Some one was opening the front door with a latchkey. It was Brently Mallard who entered, a little travel-stained, composedly carrying his grip-sack and umbrella. He had been far from the scene of the accident, and did not even know there had been one. He stood amazed at Josephine’s piercing cry; at Richards’ quick motion to screen him from the view of his wife.
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease.
The final line reads “When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease–of the joy that kills” in modern publications of this short story. However, that doesn’t appear to be Chopin’s work. In early publications, the “–of the joy that kills” phrase is missing. That’s not really a good description of “heart disease” anyways but appears to be a clear grab for irony. Incidentally, that phrase was the name of an American Playhouse episode based on this short story from early 1985. Inset photo is from page 15 of Sunday News, April 28th, 1895.