“The Kiss” by Kate Chopin

Instant fix was something I craved last night. Although the collection of short stories I was in the middle of was good, the stories averaged thirty pages. Sometimes what you want is a short short story. Enter Kate Chopin. I had recently told a friend that The Awakening was due for a reread, and last night I sifted through my Bantam Classics edition to find that I never got around to reading the short stories at the back.

“The Kiss” is such a tiny little thing. In my edition, it is little more than three pages. And Bantam books are so small to begin with. By the time I’m done with this blog post, it might be longer than the actual story.

I expected “The Kiss,” because of its length and title, to be like Gustav Klimt’s painting. I expected prose poetry. Lyrical writing. Sensuous descriptions of an ardent kiss and nothing else. What else could you fit in such a minuscule frame? But I couldn’t be more wrong. “The Kiss” is plot-heavy and the style matter-of-fact. It was so different from what I expected that I wondered if I was half-asleep reading The Awakening the first time around.

“The Kiss” opens with the wealthy but unattractive Brantain quietly courting Nathalie. Brantain loves Nathalie and she knows it. She is going to accept his proposal; not out of requited affection but because of his money. Things are progressing smoothly until Harvy, Nathalie’s apparent lover, barges in and kisses her, unaware of Brantain’s presence. Awkwardly, Braintain walks out and a furious Nathalie plots to get him back.

Because of the story’s length, characters only emerge as sketches rather than fully-realized people. Two-dimensional, as it were. Brantain is sweet and well-meaning but rather doltish. We know even less about Harvy. Clearly he is the more daring and intelligent of the two, but that’s the extent of it. Nathalie is the character we spend time with most. She is not likable, but she is almost admirable. She is both passionate and pragmatic, an odd but effective combination.

I wish I could spend more time with Nathalie. I feel like she has the seeds to make an excellent character in an epic fantasy complete with strategists and tacticians, something like A Song of Ice and Fire. From “The Kiss,” we can deduce that she is charming and manipulative, but even-tempered enough not to rage when things don’t go her way. She can make do with the cards she is given. She is clever enough to win often but has the good grace to concede defeat when losing. As Nathalie herself muses: “she had Brantain and his million left. A person can’t have everything in this world; and it was a little unreasonable of her to expect it.”

I thought about the concept of “having it all” after reading “The Kiss.” Nathalie clearly wants to “have it all”: a comfortable life with Brantain and an affair with Harvy. She almost succeeds until Harvy reveals that he will not be a pawn in her game. “Having it all” for a woman is really only achievable in modern times. So I couldn’t help but think of how Nathalie would fare in our world. I imagine she would do fine: she’s clever and charming, after all. And with the money she would have certainly made, she would be free to help herself to Harvy. In a way, “The Kiss” does show the restraints of the period: the courtship, the idleness of women. Considering the time it was written in, I wondered if Nathalie accepted Brantain more because of the security than personal materialism. Is the purpose of “The Kiss” to show how despite how formidable a woman is, she is still bound to social constraints around her? Hmm, I wonder.

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