Margot Mifflin
December 07, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

Kate Chopin

Current Status
In Season
Emily Toth
Nonfiction, Memoir

We gave it a B

In 1899, Kate Chopin scandalized American readers by creating an unrepentant adulteress in The Awakening, a novel that would have to wait 70 years for 20th-century feminism to give it a sympathetic audience. Kate Chopin is a welcome, if imperfect, examination of this early feminist’s spotty biographical remains. Emily Toth expertly re-creates the historical and geographic landscape of Chopin’s Missouri and Louisiana life, but gums it up with irrelevant minor characters and tedious references to surviving documents of the era. It’s also marred by a glaring omission: There is barely a mention of Chopin’s six children in the pages describing her 22 years as a single (widowed) parent and aspiring author (whose fiction was often critical of suffocating domestic ties). So we’re privy to lots of information about inconsequential people surrounding Chopin, but not the family life of this interesting novelist. Kate Chopin is an illuminating biography on many counts, but it could hardly be called an awakening. B

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