They did not heed the crashing torrents, and the roar of the elements made her laugh as she lay in his arms (284).
—Kate Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories
A few years ago I read the short story The Storm by Kate Chopin. I loved the succinct tale about a man named Alcée, who takes shelter from a storm in the home of his past flame, Calixta. The guiltless expression of a thwarted love felt like a fresh breath of air to me.
The generous abundance of her passion, without guile or trickery, was like a white flame which penetrated and found response in depths of his own sensuous nature that had never yet been reached (284).
A couple days ago, while researching books and journals to use in an upcoming paper I have to write, I came across the story again (the subject of my paper will be to examine the place of love within the Victorian era’s discourse around sex and alleged rampant female frigidity of the time—imagine my excitement when I thought to make use of Chopin’s late nineteenth-century work to that end).
Only this time, in the table of contents, the story was titled The Storm: A Sequel to “The ‘Cadian Ball.” I can’t remember now, or more likely didn’t even take note, of which edition I read the story in the first time so I can’t go back and see if I just overlooked the “sequel” aspect, but (despite having 167 other things I needed to do that morning) I sat down and read the prequel.
“Hé, Bobinôt! Mais w’at’s the matta? W’at you standing’ planté là like ole Ma’ame Tina’s cow in the bog, you?”
That was good. That was an excellent thrust at Bobinôt, who had forgotten the figure of the dance with his mind bent on other things, and it started a clamor of laughter at his expense. He joined good-naturedly. It was better to receive even such notice as that from Calixa than none at all” (The ‘Cadian Ball, 184).
It placed The Storm in an altered light—but not in a negative way. Perhaps a few years ago I might have been disappointed, I did so want to believe in love’s predetermination. Now I simply believe in love. And in passion. But it is just passion that is at the heart of these two stories by Chopin. Her lover’s are separated by life’s caprices (Calixa goes on to marry Bobinôt in something of a huff), but Calixa and Alcée’s relationship seems not so much a love (which would be an constant aching wound) between them, but rather an undeniable attraction which hardly takes more than a few moments of one shared memory in a private space to ignite. It is a lovely tale told in Chopin’s unapologetic style.
This is the line I am thinking I will make use of for my paper:
Now—well, now—her lips seemed in a manner free to be tasted, as well as her round, white throat and her whiter breast (284).
I find it intriguing that Chopin describes their second encounter, when they are both married to other people, as “free” in comparison to their first encounter (in the prequel) when they were both single. Perhaps in Alcée’s mind he feels free because he doesn’t have the pressure of “taking” her virginity, or they are “free” because they don’t worry about binding themselves to each other in a tangle of love when that is not, perhaps, the driving force between them. On a side note which I think might also account for this feeling of freedom (and maybe to my paper topic) I have long wondered if the lack of birth control played a role in the perception of frigidity among women. As a married woman, Calixa is free-er from the fear of an unexplainable pregnancy. Chopin’s approach to sex is shocking in its naturalness—Calixa and Alcée quite simply, physically want each other. It is simple. It is true. And, every now and then, it’s all good—or at least it reads that way. After all, getting tangled up in love seems to be my preference, but one can live and laugh vicariously through a book, no?