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Thérèse Lafirme, a beautiful and resourceful Creole woman, is widowed at age thirty-two and left alone to run her Louisiana plantation. When Thérèse falls in love with David Hosmer, a divorced businessman, her strong moral and religious convictions make it impossible for her to accept his marriage proposal. Her determined rejection sets the two on a tumultuous path that involves Hosmer’s former wife, Fanny. At Fault is both romantic and filled with stark realism-a love story that expands to address the complex problem of balancing personal happiness and social duty-set in the post-Reconstruction South against a backdrop of economic devastation and simmering racial tensions. Written at the beginning of her career, At Fault parallels Chopin’s own life and introduces characters and themes that appear in her later works, including The Awakening.
When Jérôme Lafirme died, his neighbors awaited the results of his sudden taking off with indolent watchfulness. It was a matter of unusual interest to them that a plantation of four thousand acres had been left unincumbered to the disposal of a handsome, inconsolable, childless Creole widow of thirty. A bêtise of some sort might safely be looked for. But time passing, the anticipated folly failed to reveal itself; and the only wonder was that Thérèse Lafirme so successfully followed the methods of her departed husband.
Of course Thérèse had wanted to die with her Jérôme, feeling that life without him held nothing that could reconcile her to its further endurance. For days she lived alone with her grief; shutting out the appeals that came to her from the demoralized “hands,” and unmindful of the disorder that gathered about her. Till Uncle Hiram came one day with a respectful tender of sympathy, offered in the guise of a reckless misquoting of Scripture—and with a grievance.
“Mistuss,” he said, “I ‘lowed ‘twar best to come to de house an’ tell you; fur Massa he alluz did say ‘Hi’urm, I counts on you to keep a eye open endurin’ my appersunce;’ you ricollic, marm?” addressing an expanse of black bordered cambric that veiled the features of his mistress. “Things is a goin’ wrong; dat dey is. I don’t wants to name no names ‘doubt I’se ‘bleeged to; but dey done start a kiarrin’ de cotton seed off de place, and dats how.”