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Kate Chopin.
"At the 'Cadian Ball."

Chopin is more popular now that when she was alive. She is also one of the best Louisiana writers. Born in St. Louis, she moved to Natchitoches Parish, then to New Orleans. She writes from a women's point of view.

Acadian ball or Cajun ball is a story about a party and what happens to some of the people that go to the party. The story centers on Calixta. The Spanish was in her blood. She is able to get away with things since she is not from the area. Prairie People--people that live in the marsh, they herd cattle, and trap for a living. This story gives us a good insight into the complex social landscape of rural South Louisiana in the late 19th Century.

  1. Creole. Offspring of early immigrants. Similar to the term "Colonial." They were of European and African background. What they had in common was French and Catholicism.
  2. ’Cadian/Cajun. The white descendents of Acadian immigrants. Their identity was built from the poem Evangeline and late 19-Century Jim Crow laws.
  3. “Negro Servant.” The story seems to be set in the late 19th century, because Alcée is working the plantation himself, which an Antebellum plantation owner would not do. But despite his technical freedom, the relationship between Bruce and Alcée is still that of the servant to the master.
  4. Spanish. Calixta is a Spanish Creole.
  5. German or Jewish Merchant. Friedheimer, who owns the store, could well be a Jewish merchant. Many towns through rural America had stores owned by Jewish merchants.
  6. “Gens du Raiderode.” (Railroad workers). The Américains  working on the railroad were not welcome at the ball because they couldn't be integrated into the culture. They " who were not in touch with their surroundings and had no business there."

Bobinot and Alcee are both after Calixta for different reasons. Bobinot wants to marry Calixta. Alcee wants to sleep with her Calixta. She prefers Alcee because he looks better and has money. She figures out that she has no future with Alcee and goes back to Bobinot.

Clarice is another female character in the story. Alcee wants to marry her because she has money and is a cousin. He wants to marry her to keep the money in the family. He finds Calixta the kind of girl he wants to date. Clarisse is the one he wants to marry. Alcee uses Calixta against Clarisse. Alcee does this because Clarisse won't marry him right away. He used Calixta to scare her into deciding to chase him and marry him out of fear of another woman getting him. Once he gets what he wants he dumps Calixta. She then goes back to Bobinot. He takes her back not knowing what had happened .

There is a history between Alcee and Calixta, but Chopin leaves it vague about what exactly happened. There was no sex but they thought about it.

“The Storm.”

In the next story, it is 5 years later. It's also decades later. While the first part was published in Chopin's lifetime, she put "The Storm" away in a drawer, and it wasn't published until it was included in her collected works came out in 1969. The reason for her reluctance is obvious: Calixta has an affair and lives happily ever after. She even gets shrimps for supper. Chopin pushed the boundaries of what was respectable or even acceptable behavior in the Victorian Era. Edna Pontellier crossed the line by having sex outside of marriage, but Chopin balanced that by killing her heroine at the end of the book. This is a fairly standard ending for sexually promiscuous women in 19th-Century literature. In Les Misérables, Fantine has an affair with a rich student, who goes on to as happy life. She becomes a prostitute and ends up dying bald and toothless in the snow. A proper 19th-Century ending to a wayward heroine. In Daisy Miller, Henry James creates a delightful character in the virginal Daisy, who is nevertheless willing to talk to men because of her American ways. Over the course of the book, James seems to become angrier and angrier with Daisy, until he finally kills her off with Roman fever (malaria).

As soon as women started writing, such endings started changing. In addition to "The Storm," consider also "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton. In it, one of the two women in the story had sex with the other one's fiance, and as a result got Roman Fever, which this time meant that she had gotten pregnant with her daughter Barbara, an "angel with rainbow wings." AND she lived happily ever after. Who knows, maybe she even got shrimp.

Bobinot and Calixta are married and have a four-year-old child. Bobinot and his child are caught in town at a store by a storm. Alcee is forced to take shelter Calixta's house during the storm. During the storm they have sex. The storm is an excuse for them to have sex and is a metaphor for sex (the more the storm rages, the more their passion rages). The storm is an excuse for them to have sex because it will prevent anyone form interrupting them. The storm offers them the opportunity, and they have the means. Their motive is that they wanted to live out their fantasies of sleeping together.

The thing that prevented them from having sex 5 years earlier is the reputation that they would have gotten if they would get caught.

In Assumption he had kissed her and kissed and kissed her; until his senses would well nigh fail, and to save her he would resort to a desperate flight. If she was not an immaculate dove in those days, she was still inviolate; a passionate creature whose very defenselessness had made her defense, against which his honor forbids him to prevail.

Alcee would have been dishonored if he had taken advantage of a virgin and marriage is not possible, and Calixta would have been labeled as a harlot. The way they would have been caught is that Calixta would have probably gotten pregnant and everyone would know that she had been messing around. Now that she is married she is able to mess around and not worry about getting caught, because if she gets pregnant from Alcee everyone will think that the child belongs to Bobinot. They have no intention of leaving their spouses.

European cultural expectations:

Daughters will remain pure and hidden till marriage then they can sleep around.


It is better to sleep around before marriage and not after.

When Bobnot got home and was worried because they were dirty. Calixta was happy to see them because she was guilty. Alcee wrote his wife a letter that night and told her not to hurry back and stay another month longer.

“Désirée’s Baby.”

Notice how the title foreshadows the story.  "Desiree's Baby" sounds innocent enough as the title at the beginning, but we realize its significance when Armand denies the baby as his.

He denies the baby when he realizes that his son is obviously partially black in ancestry (which is what everybody but Desiree and Armand recognizes immediately).  Given the extreme prejudice of the era, such a reaction is not surprising, particularly given Armand's violent temper.

Armand blames Desiree for the mixed ancestry of the baby because she was an orphan, her parentage unknown.  Her complexion was fair, but she could have still passed on a dark complexion to her son.  The fact that Armand is darker than her makes no difference to him, but is imporant to the story, leading to the final irony -- it was Armand's mother who was black.  His father had concealed the fact by living with her in Paris & moving back to Louisiana without her.

“In Sabine.”

My favorite Chopin stories are the ones set in the Natchitoches area. Founded in 1805, Natchitoches is the oldest European settlement in Louisiana. The French set up the outpost to keep their eyes on the Spanish, who set up their outpost a few miles away at Los Adaes. As was typical of French and Spanish outposts, there were mainly men being sent out to the frontier, and they found women as they could. So racial mixing as again the order of the day. The resulting free people of color became the Cane River Creoles, mostly keeping to themselves socially. Some of them became quite prosperous, but this was not the case for ’Tite Reine, who we discover living in Sabine with a white man named Bud Aiken.

Chopin gives a frank look into an abusive household. ’Tite Reine (which means "Little Queen") was highly valued in her own community, but Aiken had isolated her from her community. She did all the work in their household, except for chores that a neighbor did to lighten her load. Today we give some support to people dealing with domestic abuse; at the time, hardly any support existed at all. And what support did exist for wealthy white women vanished if you were a poor woman of color. 

In addition to the unfair division of labor in the house, Aiken was physically violent toward her, as well as "gaslighting" her by confusing her with a deluge of lies. Grégoire sees her plight and wants to help, but there is no obvious, socially-acceptable way of helping. Chopin comes up with the plot device of having Grégoire trade his gentle horse for Aiken's vicious horse; the men are able to handle it, but she can't. Aiken wakes up to find them both gone. Once she's back with her family in Natchitoches, they will protect her from him.

One thing to note that the story does not. Bud Aiken and ’Tite Reine are living as man and wife. He gaslights her about whether the marriage was officiated by an actual minister, or a "drummer" (an older word for a travelling salesman, who would travel around drumming up business). What Chopin does not point out is that it wouldn't matter if the Pope himself officiated; the marriage was illegal under Louisiana law banning mixed-race marriage. So whatever rights he would have over a white woman he had married don't exist for him in this case. For once the discriminatory laws worked in her favor.

Catharine Cole.
"The Story of the Old French Market."

Catharine Cole was the pen name of Martha Fields. She was an early female journalist who worked for the New Orleans newspapers. Her most remarkable set of writing was a series of articles where she visited all the parishes of the day. Her articles helped give the people of the state a sense of who they were and how they fit together.

The pamphlet on the Old French Market is not an article so much as it is an advertisement. She is celebrating the old French Market, which still stands today, but she is advertising French Market Coffee, which she did so well that it's still in business. For some reason, she works the infamous Madame LaLaurie into her musings, but she also writes sentences like this:

I sit in a dim corner, where the tide of life passes me by, and muse and dream of days that are gone when all was unlike its present form save for the old Market and the selfsame aroma of the only coffee in all the world that has lived and thrived while the centuries passed, swiftly and silently, down the pathway of time.

The Old
          Coffee Pot.
The Old Coffee Pot.

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