“A Respectable Woman” is Kate Chopin’s short story about a married woman’s evolving response to a visit from her husband’s friend.
Read the story in a PDF
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
A recent article about the story
Books that discuss Kate Chopin’s short stories
You can read the story and download it in our accurate, printable, and searchable PDF file, which is based on The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, edited by Per Seyersted (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969, 2006). 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.
In print you can find “A Respectable Woman” in The Complete Works of Kate Chopin, in the Penguin Classics edition of Chopin’s Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie, and in the Library of America Kate Chopin volume, as well as in other paperback and hardcover books. For publication information about these books, see the section “For students and scholars” near the bottom of this page.
- Mrs. Baroda
- Gouvernail: journalist, a college friend of Mrs. Baroda’s husband. His name in French means a rudder, a tiller, with the implication that he is someone who knows the direction, who understands where things are headed. Gouvernail is a also major character in Chopin’s story “Athénaïse,” and he appears at Edna Potellier’s party in Chapter XXX of The Awakening, where he quotes lines of poetry, as he does in this story
- Gaston Baroda: Mrs. Baroda’s husband
The story takes place on Gaston Baroda’s sugar plantation in Louisiana, apparently in the 1880s or early 1890s.
Many readers focus on the final sentences of the story, asking themselves what, exactly, Chopin is saying there that Mrs. Baroda intends to do. As we explain in the questions and answers below, Kate Chopin often creates brilliant, sometime ambiguous, closings.
You can read about finding themes in Kate Chopin’s stories and novels on the Themes page of this site.
The story was written on January 20, 1894, and published in Vogue on February 15, 1894, one of nineteen Kate Chopin stories that Vogue published. It was reprinted in Chopin’s collection of stories A Night in Acadie in 1897.
Q: Are the lines of poetry that Gouvernail recites his own or is he quoting someone else?
A: He is quoting Walt Whitman—from section 21 of “Song of Myself” in the 1892 edition of Leaves of Grass. The remaining lines of the apostrophe to the night read:
Press close bare-bosomed night—press close magnetic nourishing night!
Night of south winds—night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night—mad naked summer night.
Q: Did Kate Chopin assume that her readers were familiar with Walt Whitman? Did she assume they would find these remaining lines and understand what Gouvernail is thinking?
A: We don’t know what she assumed, but she sent this story to Vogue, which was edited at the time by Josephine Redding for people, Kate Chopin would say, of “advanced opinions,” a phrase Chopin uses in “Athénaïse” to describe Gouvernail. Chopin’s circle of friends in St. Louis in the 1890s certainly included people who would have known Whitman.
Q: I am left wondering by the ending of the story.
A: We are, too. It has several possible meanings. Chopin handles closings as well as any writer. “The Storm,” “The Story of an Hour,” “Fedora,” and “Désirée’s Baby,” among other short stories, also have brilliant last sentences.
For students and scholars
The Complete Works of Kate Chopin. Edited by Per Seyersted. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 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.
This article may be available on line through university or public libraries.
Cho, Ailee. “[Chopin and the Desire of Flight].” Nineteenth Century Literature in English 7 (2003): 119-134.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Awakenings: The Story of the Kate Chopin Revival Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
Beer, Janet. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Ostman, Heather. 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.
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, 1994.
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.
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.
Seyersted, Per. Kate Chopin: A Critical Biography Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1969.
Rankin, Daniel, Kate Chopin and Her Creole Stories Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1932.