Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
James L. Babin
John R. May
No one has previously undertaken a detailed examination of Kate Chopin's documented intertextuality with writers such as W. D. Howells, Hamlin Garland, Maupassant, and Flaubert. My purpose is to examine Chopin's works in the context of writers with whom she interacts and so to reveal her impact on the development of literary realism and naturalism. My study reveals that, though her mature writing eliminates sentimentalism, she never abandons romance elements residual from her youth. Her typically subjective narrator removes narrative authority, intensifies our involvement with characters, and validates the marginalized voice. Darwin and the philosophers temper her Catholicism, yet she maintains a sense of the divine and perennial nature of the force of love. Her acknowledgement of the influence of other writers reveals her sense of continuity as a means of understanding our selves. In Chopin's first novel, At Fault, she borrows a subplot of Howells's A Modern Instance to respond to the idealism Howells inveighs against even as his novel upholds it. From Howells's perspective, love as the basis for action is illusory and ideal. Chopin, understanding love as inherently human rather than as an ideal or abstract concept, critiques Howells's notion that, lacking love, the ideal of marriage should be upheld. Appreciating Maupassant's freedom of expression, Chopin departed from American models and responded instead to his stories. Richard Fusco reveals in detail how Chopin emulated Maupassant's structures. Within those structures, she more efficiently expresses the force of love in her stories. We can use Fusco's schema to examine Chopin's conscious dialogic engagement as she focuses not on Maupassant's larger concerns with an uncaring bourgeoisie, but on narrower concerns, typically within the female consciousness. Chopin finally returns to the novel form with The Awakening, a reconsideration of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary experiences no awakening, retaining romantic misconceptions. Edna awakens to the need to escape temporal limitations. Chopin pleads for the romantic vision and the necessity of understanding one's inner reality. Under the influence of these writers, Chopin demonstrates continuity, forms a link between French and American realism and naturalism, and contributes to the movement toward "soft" naturalism.
Witherow, Jean Ann, "Kate Chopin's Contribution to Realism and Naturalism: Reconsiderations of W. D. Howells, Maupassant, and Flaubert." (2000). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 7399.