October 1, 2011

Chopin: the reproach of being a cabin

It was on this date on October 1, 2008, that the former home of writer Kate Chopin burned down. The Cloutierveille, Louisiana house, which had become the Bayou Folk Museum, was a total loss.

The structure was built in the first few years of the 19th century but it was not until 1879 it was purchased by Kate Chopin's husband Oscar. After her husband's death, Chopin moved out in 1884 and settled in the city of her birth, St. Louis, where she began her writing career in earnest.

In the small town, over 250 miles from New Orleans, Kate Chopin entertained many visitors who adored her sociability and intellect. She spent her days going for walks and riding horses. She fictionalized the town in her short story, "For Marse Chouchoute":

They lived quite at the end of this little French village, which was simply two long rows of very old frame houses, facing each other closely across a dusty roadway.

Their home was a cottage, so small and so humble that it just escaped the reproach of being a cabin.

For those of us who see the importance of a sense of place in literary studies, the story of the fire that destroyed Chopin's home is devastating. That it was so recent only makes the wound feel that much fresher. For another picture of the ruins, see here. More information  on the fire, including a response from Chopin's descendants, is available at the Kate Chopin International Society page.

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