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24 July 2014
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Kate Chopin
"Regret"

Four Kates

From the short story:

"She let her head fall down on her bended arm, and began to cry. Oh, but she cried! Not softly, as women often do. She cried like a man, with sobs that seemed to tear her very soul."

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Reading Kate Chopin's "Regret" online and in print
"Regret" characters
"Regret" time and place
"Regret" themes
When "Regret" was written and published
Questions and answers about "Regret"
What other scholars say about "Regret"
Accurate texts of "Regret"
Articles and book chapters about "Regret"
Selected books that discuss Kate Chopin's short stories

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"Regret" online and in print

You can read the story and download it in our accurate, printable, and searchable PDF file, although if you're citing a passage from this or other Kate Chopin stories for research purposes, it's a good idea to check your citation against one of these printed texts.

"Regret" characters

  • Mamzelle Aurélie (people call Aurélie "Mamzelle"--mademoiselle--French for an unmarried woman)
  • Ponto, Aurélie's dog
  • Odile, Aurélie's neighbor
  • Elodie, Odile's youngest daughter
  • Ti Nomme, (petit homme--French for little fellow), Odile's son
  • Marcéline, Odile's daughter
  • Marcélette, Odile's daughter
  • Valsin, working for Odile
  • Aunt Ruby, Aurélie's cook

"Regret" time and place

The narrative takes place at the farm of Mamzelle Aurélie--apparently in rural Louisiana.

"Regret" themes

You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin's stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.

When Kate Chopin's "Regret" was written and published

The story was written on September 17, 1894 (two days before Chopin wrote "The Kiss"). It was first published in Century in May, 1895, and included in A Night in Acadie, Chopin's second published volume of short stories (1897).

You can find composition dates and publication dates for Chopin's works on pages 1003 to 1032 of The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. You can also see on those pages the changes Chopin made (there are quite a few) to her manuscript version before the story appeared in Century. The Complete Works gives the date of the story's publication in Century as May 1894. The correct date is May 1895.

Questions and answers about "Regret"

Q: Is Kate Chopin advocating for motherhood in this story?

A: Scholars have been discussing that for a long time. Peggy Skaggs argues that "Regret" develops the idea that "to experience life richly a woman needs a child or children to love and care for." Mamzelle Aurélie, Skaggs says, "lacks that important part of a woman's life, the maternal relationship." And Mary Papke adds that in this story "Chopin depicts the female strength granted to mothers."

But in the recent Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Michael Worton notes that "Adrienne Rich argues in Of Woman Born, [that] we need to differentiate between motherhood as an institution and motherhood as a series of individual experiences and practices. It is with the institutional dimension that Chopin mainly engages in her fiction. However, it is interesting to note that she also gives examples of motherhood as creative and reparative, especially when motherhood is an adopted rather than natural role."

Q: At one point in this story Kate Chopin writes, "There was a pleasant odor of pinks in the air." That phrase reminds me of something else Chopin wrote, but I can't remember what. Do you know what it could be?

A: You may be thinking of the closing sentence of The Awakening: "There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air."

Q: Can you help me understanding the dialect some of Chopin's characters are speaking in this story?

A: You might try reading those passages aloud--or you might find someone who can read them aloud with feeling. Chopin is capturing what her characters sound like as they speak, so it may be helpful to hear the story, rather than read it.

For example, here's a passage from the beginning of "Regret" in which Odile is speaking to Mamzelle Aurélie:

"It's no question, Mamzelle Aurélie; you jus' got to keep those youngsters fo' me tell I come back. Dieu sait, I would n' botha you with 'em if it was any otha way to do! Make 'em mine you, Mamzelle Aurélie; don' spare 'em. Me, there, I'm half crazy between the chil'ren, an' Léon not home, an' maybe not even to fine po' maman alive encore!"

If you could hear that read aloud, you might understand better. In today's standard American English, the character is saying something like:

"There's no question, Mamzelle Aurélie; you just have to keep those youngsters for me until I come back. Dieu sait [French: God knows], I wouldn't bother you with them if there were any other way! Make them mind you [listen to you], Mamzelle Aurélie; don't spare them. Me, there, I'm half crazy [worried] about the children, and Léon [her husband] not home, and maybe not even to find my poor maman [French; mother] alive encore [French: still]!"

In this and most other Chopin stories, if you misunderstand some of the dialectal expressions, it's not likely to lead to you misunderstand what's happening in the story.

Q: I'm really troubled to see Chopin speak of "negroes" in this story. Isn't that deeply offensive language?

A: We explain at other places on this site that Chopin’s language in some of her work is a picture of the way people in her time spoke to one another. Words like “darkey” and “Negro,” offensive for us in the twenty-first century, were used familiarly by people of color and white people in Chopin’s Louisiana, commonly without intended rancor. Kate Chopin reproduced such language in her characters’ speech, as she reproduced people’s dialectal patterns. For her, as for Mark Twain and others of her generation, recording accurately the way people spoke was an important part of being a good writer.

Louisiana at the time was just a decade or so away from slavery. Chopin does not pretend that the color line is gone, that African Americans enjoy complete freedom and equality, or that everyone lives in racial harmony with everyone else. There are racial tensions in several of her stories.

Chopin was, of course, a nineteenth-century, white, Southern woman, but she was also deeply steeped in French culture, being bilingual and bi-cultural from birth. She shares both American and European attitudes toward race, and she always sees more than her characters do.

There's been a good deal written about Chopin and race. If you want to explore the subject you might start by reading articles by Anna Shannon Elfenbein, Helen Taylor, and Elizabeth Ammons in the Norton Critical Edition of The Awakening, and you might look at Bonnie James Shaker's Coloring Locals. For a defense of Chopin you might start by checking Emily Toth's Kate Chopin and Bernard Koloski's Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction, and on line you could read Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's comments on the Kate Chopin: A Re-Awakening site. You can find information about these and other publications about Chopin and race at the bottom of the Awakening page and the Short Stories page of this site, as well as on pages devoted to individual stories, like "Désirée's Baby."

You can read more questions and answers about Kate Chopin and her work, and you can contact us with your questions.

What other scholars say about "Regret"

Per Seyersted devotes five pages to a discussion of "Regret," comparing its content and its form to a short story by Guy de Maupassant. And he emphasizes Kate Chopin's ties to France and Ireland. "Her writing demonstrated an instinctive artistic sense which made use of the best of the Celtic and Gallic traditions. She had learned to apply her in inborn French simplicity and clarity, logic and precision, and the Gallic sense of form, economy of means, and restraint, together with the pathos and humor, the warmth and gaiety of the Irish."

In her analysis of the story, Barbara Ewell probes "the value of other-centeredness" and "the limits and costs of self-sufficiency." By the end of "Regret," Ewell writes, "Aurélie has glimpsed a life that has revealed the insufficiency of her own."

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For students and scholars

Accurate texts of "Regret"

The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006.

Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie. Edited by Bernard Koloski. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra Gilbert. New York: Library of America, 2002.

Articles and book chapters about "Regret"

Worton. Michael." Reading Kate Chopin through contemporary French feminist theory" In The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. Ed. Janet Beer. Cambridge UP, 2008. 105–17.

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969. 125–30.

Selected books that discuss Kate Chopin's short stories

Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.

Robert L. Gale. Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2009.

Beer, Janet, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.

For scholars: We seek to make our listings of Chopin scholarship accurate and up to date. If you find a mistake, an omission, or a misplacement, would you tell us? If a listed article is available on the web, would you send us the link? Contact us.

Ostman, Heather, ed. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.

Arima, Hiroko. Beyond and Alone!: The Theme of Isolation in Selected Short Fiction of Kate Chopin, Katherine Anne Porter, and Eudora Welty Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2006.

Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Stein, Allen F. Women and Autonomy in Kate Chopin's Short Fiction New York: Peter Lang, 2005.

Walker, Nancy A. Kate Chopin: A Literary Life Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2001.

Koloski, Bernard. "Introduction" Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie by Kate Chopin New York: Penguin, 1999.

Toth, Emily. Unveiling Kate Chopin Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.

Koloski, Bernard. Kate Chopin: A Study of the Short Fiction New York: Twayne, 1996.

Petry, Alice Hall (ed.), Critical Essays on Kate Chopin New York: G. K. Hall, 1996.

Boren, Lynda S. and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.

Perspectives on KateChopin: Proceedings from the Kate Chopin International Conference, April 6, 7, 8, 1989 Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State UP, 1992.

Toth, Emily. "Introduction" A Vocation and a Voice New York: Penguin, 1991.

Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton New York: Greenwood, 1990.

Toth, Emily. Kate Chopin. New York: Morrow, 1990.

Elfenbein , Anna Shannon. Women on the Color Line: Evolving Stereotypes and the Writings of George Washington Cable, Grace King, Kate Chopin Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1989.

Taylor, Helen. Gender, Race, and Region in the Writings of Grace King, Ruth McEnery Stuart, and Kate Chopin Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.

Bonner, Thomas Jr., The Kate Chopin Companion New York: Greenwood, 1988.

Bloom, Harold (ed.), Kate Chopin New York: Chelsea, 1987.

Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin New York: Ungar, 1986.

Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin Boston: Twayne, 1985.

Leary, Lewis, ed. Kate Chopin: The Awakening and Other Stories New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey New York: Appleton-Century, 1936.

Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.

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boston Special Kate Chopin presentations at the 2014 American Literature Association conference in Washington, D.C., this May
1899 Novel The original cover of Kate Chopin's famous novel, published in 1899.