Kate Chopin as feminist : subverting the French andocentric influence : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in English at Massey University
As nineteenth century woman taking the pen, Kate Chopin ran the risk of becoming overcome by a patriarchal literary tradition, of losing herself as female writer. And doubly so, in turning to male mentor Guy de Maupassant, himself so entrenched in the androcentric dictates of this tradition, for creative inspiration. Ironically, however, it is in the very act of Maupassantian emulation that Chopin's feminist subversivesness lies. In the creation of her short stories, appropriation becomes reappropriation. Patriarchal literary traditions become tools in the very act of their own subversion, as androcentric means meet resoundingly feminist ends. And as the technical strength of Maupassantian influence grows, so too does the effectiveness of the subversive message carried therein. The Poesque form of Maupassant, his unobtrusive, amoral style, his despondent, pessimistic philosophy, all come together in the work of Chopin, but her result epitomises the victory of feminist subversive survival. And it is a victory not only read but also felt as Chopin's focus shifts, under the guidance of Maupassant, from lengthy expositions of the externalities of female experience to increasingly concentrated and deeply insightful psychological journeys of womanhood. Feelings and emotional responses come to take precedence over action; overt feminist treatise is replaced by the subtlely effective "voice couvert" - the hidden voice of feminism. Thus, Chopin disrupts the discourse of patriarchy from within, simultaneously subscribing to and subverting Maupassant's male-centred perspective. She swims against the currents of tradition, maintaining her individuality and identity as woman writer even as she speaks of the despair and hopelessness this condition brings. The French androcentric influence is overturned.