The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 25. Kate Chopin

With the nineties came the full perfection of short story art. Within their limited field A New England Nun and Main-Travelled Roads may not be surpassed. In another area of the short story James Lane Allen’s Flute and Violin stands by itself, and in still another such work as Margaretta Wade Deland’s Old Chester Tales, Grace King’s Monsieur Motte, and Alice Brown’s Meadow Grass. No more exquisite work, however, may be found in the whole range of the local colour school than that in Kate Chopin’s (1851–1904) Bayou Folks (1894). She was of Celtic blood and spontaneously a story-teller. She wrote with abandon, yet always it was with the restrained art that we have got into the habit of calling French. Such stories as Désirée’s Baby, the final sentence of which grips one by the throat like a sudden hand out of the dark, and Madame Célestin’s Divorce, with its delicious humour and its glimpse into the feminine heart, are among the few unquestioned masterpieces of American short story art.

The local colour vogue during the period undoubtedly was an element toward the making of the American fictional unit short. He who would deal with the social régime of a provincial neighbourhood must of necessity be brief. There was no background of established manners in the corners of America, or in the centres, for that matter, sufficient to afford material for a Richardson or a Thackeray. Harte and Charles Egbert Craddock and most of the others attempted novels and failed. One may make a moving drama of the culminating moment in Mother Shipton’s or Tennessee’s life, but a complete novel written about either of them would be only a succession of picaresque adventures. The short story was peculiarly the vehicle for recording American life, so squalid, yet so glorious and moving, during the era when the country had no manners but only the rudiments of what were to become manners.