Bon à Rien

The girl was not too deeply in love with Hector; but imagination counts for something (75, In and Out of Old Natchitoches
-Kate Chopin, Bayou Folk

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Kate Chopin’s collection of short stories, Bayou Folk is comprised of some 23 stories most of which take place, as the title suggests, amongst the Bayou folk: the Creole people in and about New Orleans. She writes about her topic of choice- men and women aching for love under the limiting constraints (for both sexes) of living in a man’s world. In Sabine confronts a woman’s happiness cruelly destroyed by her marriage to one man, and then saved by another:

He was wondering if it would really be a criminal act to go then and there and shoot the top of Bud Aiken’s head off. He himself would hardly have considered it a crime, but he was not sure of how others might regard the act (88, In Sabine)

But hardly any of her characters are ever autonomous enough to enjoy the freedom to love without regard to anything but one’s own insisting heart- and what is remarkable about Chopin’s writing in the late 19th century is her particularly keen voice describing the devastating effects this has on the subordinate woman of her age.

But he was not jesting. She saw it at once in the glance that penetrated her own; in the quiver of his sensitive lip and the quick beating of a swollen vein in his brown throat […] She had suddenly become a woman capable of love or sacrifice (307, A Lady of Bayou St. John).

The stories that make up Bayou Folk all touch on the poignancy of love and heartbreak but none are near the level of Chopin’s masterpiece, The Awakening – that book simply slays.

She’s a vrai sauvage, that’s w’at (186, Loka).

Nevertheless, the delightful vernacular of the characters populating these stories, the vibrancy of the people and landscape, taken together with Chopin’s supreme talent for articulating what if feels like to fall in love, or to be heartbroken, or just plain broken, is unique and lovely.

If she had hung for hours upon his neck telling him that she loved him, he could not have known it more surely than by this sign. Azenor felt as if some mysterious bond had all at once drawn them heart to heart and made them one. (191, Love on the Bon-Dieu)

Love that crosses the boundaries of what is euphemistically called “polite society” is at the heart of Chopin’s work. “Polite society” is a cruel, racist, sexist, classist, disingenuous master and Chopin was never afraid to politely, of course,  point that out.

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6 responses to “Bon à Rien

  1. thanks for another great post. Great stories are often about being on fracture lines – hence so many great writers from border areas.

  2. The eternal reader, I share your pursuits and enjoy your outtakes.

  3. will try to read this as I LOVED the Awakening many years ago when a man I loved gave it to me. I am not sure I understood the message then!

    • Wow. I have to think about that…
      do not expect the excellence of The Awakenings in Bayou Folk, but it is very fine. My favorite short story of hers (not a part of Bayou Folk) is The Storm. She is a devastating writer.

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