Goodreads: Lilacs and Other Stories
Source: Library Book Sale
Published: June 17, 2005
Before she wrote The Awakening — a powerful novel that has illuminated generations of readers with its strikingly honest and controversial themes of female sexuality and miscegenation–Kate Chopin penned many well-received short stories of Creole and Acadian life. Infused with “local color,” these tales are filled with fascinating characters, idiosyncratic customs, and sometimes shocking details.
Reflecting the influences of the French writers Guy de Maupassant and George Sand, “Lilacs” is a heartfelt and simple tale of love, life, and devotion. The compelling work is accompanied by 23 other distinctive tales of southern life, among them “A No-Account Creole” and “Love on the Bon-Dieu,” from Bayou Folk, and “A Matter of Prejudice,” “The Lilies,” and “Dead Men’s Shoes” from A Night in Acadie.
Kate Chopin is best known for The Awakening (and possibly not much else), so stumbling across this collection of short stories she had published in various places during her lifetime as part of her efforts to make a living from writing, was interesting to me. The forward of my edition notes that the stories largely fall into the local-color movement of the 1890s, and Chopin probably drew on “the Creole society of her married life” as her inspiration. In short, the stories don’t really deliver the same aesthetic or worldview as The Awakening, which was somewhat a surprise to me and may be to other readers, as well.
First, when the forward mentions Chopin’s Creole society, what it seems to mean is that Chopin and her husband lived in New Orleans and were familiar with, but not part of, Creole society. The stories are what one would expect from local-color stories from the nineteenth century and, of course, do not reflect modern viewpoints on things like race, representation of dialect in writing, etc. I think Chopin generally has respect for her subjects and seems truly interested in representing the variety and nuances of their life experiences, but it was still the 1890s.
In terms of plot, the stories are just alright. Chopin occasionally goes for a small twist at the end, but none of the stories really took me by surprise. The selection in the book does at least vary in terms of whether the stories are sad, happy, maudlin, etc., which I appreciated. (Too many short story collections are put together by theme, which frequently results in the stories all sounding vaguely the same.) I don’t know, however, that I would go out of my way to recommend this book to others.
Mostly, however, I was interested in how different many of these stories seem from The Awakening. As a disclaimer, I don’t really like The Awakening and I don’t totally agree that abandoning your family is necessarily a great feminist message; however, I was struck by how differently some of these short stories tackle issues like marriage and gender relations. Some of them read as essentially the opposite of The Awakening, with women ultimately caving to the perseverance of men they have no interest in because…why not, I guess.
If you like Kate Chopin, these stories would be a good thing to look into. If you just want an interesting short story collection, you can probably find more entertaining things to read.