It’s been some time since I read (and therefore reviewed) a Library of America offering, but when I saw another Kate Chopin offering pop up a few weeks ago, I couldn’t resist it. And so, I printed it off, but have only just managed to read it. Well, what a surprise…
I thought about starting this post with “And now for something completely different” because this story, “A Morning Walk” (1897), is significantly different from my previous three Chopins – her novel The awakening, and the two short stories I’ve previously reviewed here. All is explained though in the brief but useful introductory notes from LOA:
Chopin gained fame (and notoriety) during the 1890s startling readers with her handling of topics considered bold for the era, but she also continued to publish light or pleasant fiction for local magazines. Among these latter stories are several holiday tales – a genre whose prevalence, along with its promise of good pay, proved attractive to writers during the nineteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic, from Charles Dickens and Washington Irving to Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather (who published under a pseudonym).
And so to “A Morning Walk”. It is a short short story about Archibald’s morning walk. It was originally published under the title “An Easter Day Conversion” which gives a clue to its meaning. Archibald is around forty, not concerned about looking older than he is, and inclined to focus on the practical rather than emotional or sentimental things in life. In the fifth paragraph we are told that:
Archibald has started out for a walk, not because the day was beautiful and alluring but for the healthful exercise, and for the purpose of gathering into his lungs the amount of pure oxygen needed to keep his body in good working condition.
However, the language in the third paragraph hints at something else going on around him, even if he’s not consciously aware of it: the irregular streets “cuddle up” to the houses, “riotous colours” are abroad, and there is “a velvety gust” which “softly” beats his face. And in the fourth paragraph we are told that these sensations of spring “for some unaccountable reason … were reaching him to-day through unfamiliar channels”. Instead of his usual interest in flowers being “to dismember their delicate, sweet bodies for the purpose of practical and profitable investigation”, on this morning “he saw only the color of the blossoms, and noted their perfumes. The butterflies floated unmolested within his reach …”.
On this walk, and in this frame of mind, he meets a young woman, carrying lilies. His thoughts take a sensual turn as she reminds him of “peaches that he had bitten; of grapes that he has tasted; of a cup’s rim from which he has sometimes sipped wine”. The references to the lilies – which tend to symbolise innocence and purity – are even more pointed: their “big wax-like petals” risk being “bruised and jostled”.
And so he accompanies her to church, surprising the congregation with his presence, and hears the beginning of the traditional Easter sermon, “I am the Resurrection and the Life…”. Life seems about to change for Archibald, for the better, as he senses and accepts “the poet’s vision, of the life that is within and the life that is without, pulsing in unison, breathing the harmony of an undivided existence”. The aforementioned “lilies” – and their bruising – add a little edge which I’d expect of Chopin, but the reading is, I believe, intended to be a positive one.