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Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening:Enhancements - New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans

New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans: Chopin in New Orleans

Kate Chopin Enhancements: New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans

Chopin in New Orleans


NARRATOR: The Chopins were surrounded by people of several different nationalities while living in New Orleans�Irish, Italian, African-American and German.The Chopins still maintained their French lifestyle. But, they chose homes that were far from the French quarter. First they lived in a duplex on magazine street. Then they moved to a larger house in the fashionable and expanding "uptown" or American district to accommodate their growing family, which included two servants. When Kate got a chance to venture around the city she loved it.

SOUNDBITE: E.F. Genovese/Emory University
One of the things she loved was to ride the streetcar and to be able to walk and to be able to see the wide variety of people and places and situations. There were a lot of Italians in New Orleans as well as a lot of blacks, African Americans. It was just, it was bustling and it had an aura of mystery and shadows.

NARRATOR: Chopin no doubt also loved the beautiful trees and shrubbery that lined the streets of New Orleans, a sight residents and visitors of New Orleans still enjoy today.

New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans: Chopin and Degas

Kate Chopin Enhancements: New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans

Chopin and Degas


NARRATOR: Among the people Kate Chopin met during her stay in New Orleans were relatives of the French painter, Edgar Degas. Kate's mother was a descendent of the close-knit Creole society of New Orleans. Degas' mother was also born there. For that reason, Degas called a lengthy stay in new Orleans "a homecoming of sorts." When her mother visited, she and Kate called on relatives along Esplanade Avenue. Degas' relatives also lived in that area. There are indications Chopin may have met Degas himself. He spent five months in New Orleans in the early 1870s.

SOUNDBITE: Jean Bardot/Amercan College in Paris Kate must have met him because later on in several works she mentions that she met an impressionist, obviously not in France because they came in 1870. That was too early. So I'm sure she met Edgar Degas in New Orleans. She was very interested in everything French. This is an interesting connection.

NARRATOR: New Orleans provided the setting for several of Degas' paintings. One featured men doing business at a cotton brokerage house owned by his brothers. Degas has been quoted as saying there was nothing in New Orleans but cotton. People in New Orleans lived with and for cotton. Some historians believe New Orleans provided a kind of inspiration for Degas that he didn't find anywhere else.

New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans: Chopin and African-Americans

Kate Chopin Enhancements: New Orleans, Degas & African-Americans

Chopin and African-Americans


NARRATOR: Chopin's observations of the different cultures, speech patterns and interpersonal relationships are evident throughout her writing. Blacks are often depicted with speech patterns indicating little or no education� a reflection of the time that Chopin lived and wrote. But, that isn't always the case.

SOUNDBITE: Tom Bonner/Xavier University of LA.
Chopin's black characters meet the images and roles of so many. We find them almost as third level characters scattered throughout her fiction. She also has what we would refer to today as stereotypical features. But there are a surprising number of Chopin's black characters who break the mold.

SOUNDBITE: Barbara Ewell/Loyola University (New Orleans)
Black characters were treated with a sense of dignity, personhood in that they were not just backdrops, although that's not completely true throughout, consistently true in fiction, they do show up as just the invisible servants as well.

NARRATOR: Scholars say despite the lack of attention given to many of the African-American characters in Chopin's stories, you can still see her attention to the feelings of these characters�the joy, the pain, and the terrible grief.