October 5, 2012

Doctor Chevalier's Lie: shoulders were shrugged

Kate Chopin wrote "Doctor Chevalier's Lie" in September 1892, though, after an initial rejection, it was not published until 1893 in the October 5 issue of Vogue. It was credited only to "K.C." and earned Chopin $4.00 (the anonymity, some speculate, was because the story was based on true events). The story — or, more accurately, the short sketch — starts with a gunshot:

The quick report of a pistol rang through the quiet autumn night. It was no unusual sound in the unsavory quarter where Dr. Chevalier had his office. Screams commonly went with it. This time there had been none.

Despite the lack of screams, the physician Chevalier knows he will be soon be needed and puts away the book he was reading. The scene he comes upon, he thinks, is typical: groups of frightened or sobbing women, the morbidly curious, and the dead body sprawled before them. This one was different, however. As he looked upon the face of the dead woman who had fired the gun at her temple, he quickly recognized her.

Dr. Chevalier remembered her when he met her in a simple cabin in Arkansas where he spent time with her and her loving family. He took it upon himself to see to her burial arrangements and wrote a letter to her family: "One, doubtless, to carry sorrow, but no shame to the cabin down there in the forest." Sending with the letter locks of her hair and "other trinkets," he writes only that she has died of an illness and even invents "tender" last words. The lie referenced in the title was that he did not say to her family what the girl had become: a prostitute.

Of course it was noised about that Doctor Chevalier had cared for the remains of a woman of doubtful repute. Shoulders were shrugged. Society thought of cutting him. Society did not, for some reason or other, so the affair blew over.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.