Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, May 28, 2010

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin (1894-5 pages)

I have recently read two works by Kate Chopin (1850 to 1904) which I greatly enjoyed.   The first of her works I read was "A Respectable Woman" and the second was her famous novella The Awaking.    Both of these works are set in Louisiana.    Both have as their central character a married woman in comfortable financial circumstances with a decent  husband who seems to  treat her  well.    Both of the women in these works are dissatisfied with their lives and seek to be free to pursue their lives unfettered by the bands of conventional society.    In both stories we are not given a concrete reason or offense that is driving the women from their husbands, who they acknowledge they "sort of" love.   There is just a vague but strong feeling that they are being somehow oppressed both by their husbands and the very institution of matrimony.   Both of the stories are beautifully written and evoke a strong sense of place and time.   If there is a common malady  in the lives of these women it is a lack of passion or connection with what some would call "the life force".

When Rebecca Reid  of Rebecca Reads (and manager of the Classics Circuit)  suggested in a comment that I might like "The Story of an Hour" also by Kate Chopin I decided to read it.   It is a very short story.    I read it online and in print it would be from three to five pages long.   For sure you can read it in just a few minutes.   Like the other two works by Chopin that I posted on this story is about a married woman with a decent seeming husband for whom she acknowledges feelings of love and who as far as we see treats her well.    She is for sure materially comfortable.   I read this story three times.    It is that good and is  really almost shocking in its impact.   

As the story opens Mrs Mallard gets some very bad news:

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.
Mrs Mallard gazes out her window seemingly in shock but everywhere she looks she sees signs of new life:

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.
Then her mind begins to break from its bonds:

When she abandoned herself a little whispered word escaped her slightly parted lips. She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" 
There is more to the story than this and the ending is a tragic one but I hope some will want to read it so I will not give away any more of the plot.

This is a wonderful story.    As a married man with a great wife it did make me think.    The work of Chopin might not be quite on the level with that of Katherine Mansfield but she is for sure worth reading.

I think all of her stories can be read on line.    I read "The Story of an Hour" here.

If anyone has any suggestions as to short stories that they think are among the best please leave a comment.

Mel u


Cat said...

Thank you for the link - it is a wonderful story. Your posts have certainly revived my interest in the short story and I hadn't realised they were so available online.

Jan von Harz said...

This is one of my all time favorite short stories. I love turning my students onto it, although I have to go through the vocabulary with them before as Chopin's words are so far advanced for most 8th graders.

Mel u said...

Cat-thanks-everyday I am finding more resources for reading short stories on line

Jan von Harz-this is a great story for students and probably generates a lot of discussion

Rebecca Reid said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I think it's great example of how short stories can develop a character and develop a punch in just a short space!