There isn't much I can say about this book that I didn't already say about Lilacs and Other
Stories. I am so grateful that Dover carries Kate Chopin's works, or I may never have become familiar with them. As in Lilacs, this one contains selected stories from both of Chopin's
collections,Bayou Folk, and A Night in Acadie, plus two uncollected stories published in Vogue. They run
the whole gamut of emotions from humorous to tender to tragic and sometimes a combination. The only real difference with this collection is that it is much
smaller, containing only nine stories.
Désirée's Baby, from Bayou Folk. is a bittersweet tale of a toddler dropped off, and taken in by kind folks, the Valmondés. who have no children of their own. They raise her to be a beautiful lady. Armand Aubigny falls head over heels in love with her, and despite that no one really knows anything of her natural parents, Armand claims he doesn't care. They marry and a baby boy is born. The proud parents are blissfully happy and in love. One day Madame Valmondé comes to visit Désirée and the baby, and she seems startled at something, though Désirée doesn't notice. But soon after, Désirée senses something is wrong. As the child is lying on the bed, being fanned by one of the slave boys, Désirée looks at her child, then at the boy, and becomes afraid. When Armand enters the room coldly, she approaches him and asks what is wrong, and why the child looks as he does. Armand answers that the baby is not white, and thatDésirée is not white either. She protests, and tells him to look at her fair skin, eyes, and brown hair, but to no avail. He cuts her off.
Eventually she tells him she is leaving, and he makes no attempt to stop her. She takes the baby and begins the walk back to her home with nothing but herself and the child. But what goes around comes around, and Armand's hatefulness returns to him in a way he never expects.
From A Night in Acadie comes Azélie. She is a poor young lady whom we first meet coming to the store kept by Mr. Mathurin for his "hands." She wants a piece of salt pork, and he tells her to ask Mr. 'Polyte. Then she wants coffee and sugar but he refuses her the lard and the whiskey and tobacco for her popa. She lives with him and her brother and grandma in a little cabin on the plantation. But she does get a spool of thread and some coal oil and peppermint candy. After she leaves, 'Polyte grumbles about her having no sense and he wishes she'd just leave. That night he lay on his hammock till the moon rose, then went to bed. Sometime in the night, he awoke and realized someone was in the store. A window had been opened, and when the thief darted out, he caught her. It was Azélie, coming back to get the things for her popa which had been refused—tobacco, a pipe, and some fishing tackle:
"So—so, you a thief!" he muttered savagely under his breath.
"You hurtin' me, Mr. 'Polyte" she complained, squirming. He somewhat relaxed, but did not relinquish, his hold upon her.
"I ain't no thief," she blurted.
"You was stealin'," he contradicted her sharply.
"I wasn' stealin'. I was jus' takin' a few li'l things you all too mean to gi' me.You all treat my popa like he was a dog.". . .
And after he scolded her, he told her she was never allowed in the store again, but whatever she needed, all she had to do was ask. And after she leaves, he realizes he is hopelessly in love with her.
The title story, A Pair of Silk Stockings is about a woman, a mother, Mrs. Sommers, who, way back before she was Mrs., used to be well off. She has now found herself in possession of fifteen dollars, which seems like a fortune for her now. She prudently calculates the necessities she will buy for her children, taking care to get the most out of the sum. But on the day of her shopping venture, ready to wait in line as long as need be to get the best bargain, she finds herself at the counter touching something very soft and luxurious. It is a pair of silk stockings. She can't resist them, and buys a lovely black pair, after being assured from the girl at the counter that they come in her size. After that, she loses interest in bargains. She goes to the ladies' room and changes into her new stockings, then proceeds to buy a pair of shoes, gloves, a magazine and lunch. Then she goes to the theatre. At last she gets on the cable car to return home, wishing it would go on forever.
I wish Chopin had written much more than she did because I would certainly read it all. There is something about her writing, a brutal and fearless honesty in her portrayals of human nature, particularly of southern folk in the decades after the Civil War, that sets her apart from others of this period. Highly recommended reading.
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