“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
New All of Kate Chopin’s short stories in Spanish
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.
Fox, Heather A. Arranging Stories: Framing Social Commentary in Short Story Collections by Southern Women Writers. University Press of Mississippi, 2022.
Ostman, Heather. Kate Chopin and Catholicism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
Ostman, Heather, and Kate O’Donoghue, eds. Kate Chopin in Context: New Approaches. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. The book contains these essays:
Koloski, Bernard. “Chopin’s Enlightened Men”: 15–27.
Walker, Rafael. “Kate Chopin and the Dilemma of Individualism”: 29–46.
Armiento, Amy Branam. “‘A quick conception of all that this accusation meant for her’: The Legal Climate at the Time of ‘Désirée’s Baby’”: 47–64.
Rossi, Aparecido Donizete. “The Gothic in Kate Chopin”: 65–82.
Gil, Eulalia Piñero. “The Pleasures of Music: Kate Chopin’s Artistic and Sensorial Synesthesia”: 83–100.
Ostman, Heather. “Maternity vs. Autonomy in Chopin’s ‘Regret’”: 101–15.
Merricks, Correna Catlett. “‘I’m So Happy; It Frightens Me’: Female Genealogy in the Fiction of Kate Chopin and Pauline Hopkins”: 145–58.
Sehulster, Patricia J. “American Refusals: A Continuum of ‘I Prefer Not Tos’ as Articulated in the Work of Chopin, Hawthorne, Harper, Atherton, and Dreiser”: 159–72.
Rajakumar, Mohanalakshmi and Geetha Rajeswar. “What Did She Die of? ‘The Story of an Hour’ in the Middle East Classroom”: 173–85.
O’Donoghue, Kate. “Teaching Kate Chopin Using Multimedia”: 187–202.
James Nagel. Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and George Washington Cable. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2014.
Brosman, Catharine Savage. Louisiana Creole Literature: A Historical Study. UP of Mississippi, 2013.
Wan, Xuemei. Beauty in Love and Death—An Aesthetic Reading of Kate Chopin’s Works [in Chinese]. China Social Sciences P, 2012.
Hebert-Leiter, Maria. Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2009.
Gale, Robert L. Characters and Plots in the Fiction of Kate Chopin. Jefferson, N C: McFarland, 2009.
Beer, Janet, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Kate Chopin. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2008. The book contains these essays:
Knights, Pamela. “Kate Chopin and the Subject of Childhood”: 44–58.
Castillo, Susan. “’Race’ and Ethnicity in Kate Chopin’s Fiction”: 59–72.
Joslin, Katherine. “Kate Chopin on Fashion in a Darwinian World”: 73–86.
Worton, Michael. “Reading Kate Chopin through Contemporary French Feminist Theory”: 105–17.
Horner, Avril. “Kate Chopin, Choice and Modernism”: 132–46.
Taylor, Helen. “Kate Chopin and Post-Colonial New Orleans”: 147–60.
Ostman, Heather, ed. Kate Chopin in the Twenty-First Century: New Critical Essays. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2008. The book contains these essays:
Kornhaber, Donna, and David Kornhaber. “Stage and Status: Theatre in the Short Fiction of Kate Chopin”: 15–32.
Thrailkill, Jane F. “Chopin’s Lyrical Anodyne for the Modern Soul”: 33–52.
Johnsen, Heidi. “Kate Chopin in Vogue: Establishing a Textual Context for A Vocation and a Voice”: 53–69.
Batinovich, Garnet Ayers. “Storming the Cathedral: The Antireligious Subtext in Kate Chopin’s Works”: 73–90.
Kirby, Lisa A. “‘So the storm passed . . .’: Interrogating Race, Class, and Gender
in Chopin’s ‘At the ’Cadian Ball’ and ‘The Storm’”: 91–104.
Frederich, Meredith. “Extinguished Humanity: Fire in Kate Chopin’s ‘The Godmother’”: 105–18.
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.
Lohafer, Susan. Reading for Storyness: Preclosure Theory, Empirical Poetics and Culture in the Short Story. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.
Shaker, Bonnie James. Coloring Locals: Racial Formation in Kate Chopin’s Youth’s Companion Stories. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2003.
Perrin-Chenour, Marie-Claude. Kate Chopin: Ruptures [in French]. Paris, France: Belin, 2002.
Evans, Robert C. Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction: A Critical Companion. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill, 2001.
Koloski, Bernard, ed. Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie by Kate Chopin. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Beer, Janet. Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction. New York: Macmillan–St. Martin’s, 1997.
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. The book contains these essays:
Pollard, Percival. “From Their Day in Court“: 67–70.
Reilly, Joseph J. “Stories by Kate Chopin”: 71–74.
Skaggs, Peggy. “The Boy’s Quest in Kate Chopin’s ‘A Vocation and a Voice’”: 129–33.
Dyer, Joyce [Coyne]. “The Restive Brute: The Symbolic Presentation of Repression and Sublimation in Kate Chopin’s ‘Fedora’”: 134–38.
Arner, Robert D. “Pride and Prejudice: Kate Chopin’s ‘Désirée’s Baby’”: 139–46.
Bauer, Margaret D. “Armand Aubigny, Still Passing After All These Years: The Narrative Voice and Historical Context of ‘Désirée’s Baby’”: 161–83.
Berkove, Lawrence I. “‘Acting Like Fools’: The Ill-Fated Romances of ‘At the ’Cadian Ball’ and ‘The Storm’”: 184–96.
Wagner-Martin, Linda. “Kate Chopin’s Fascination with Young Men”: 197–206.
Walker, Nancy A. “Her Own Story: The Woman of Letters in Kate Chopin’s Short Fiction”: 218–26.
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.
Fick, Thomas H., and Eva Gold, guest eds. “Special Section: Kate Chopin.” Louisiana Literature: A Review of Literature and Humanities. Spring, 1994. 8–171. The special section of the journal contains these essays:
Toth, Emily. “Introduction: A New Generation Reads Kate Chopin”: 8–17.
Koloski, Bernard. “The Anthologized Chopin: Kate Chopin’s Short Stories in Yesterday’s and Today’s Anthologies”: 18–30.
Saar, Doreen Alvarez. “The Failure and Triumph of ‘The Maid of Saint Phillippe’: Chopin Rewrites American Literature for American Women”: 59–73.
Dyer, Joyce. “‘Vagabonds’: A Story without a Home”: 74–82.
Padgett, Jacqueline Olson. “Kate Chopin and the Literature of the Annunciation, with a Reading of ‘Lilacs’”: 97–107.
Day, Karen. “The ‘Elsewhere’ of Female Sexuality and Desire in Kate Chopin’s ‘A Vocation and a Voice’”: 108–17.
Cothern, Lynn. “Speech and Authorship in Kate Chopin’s ‘La Belle Zoraïde’”: 118–25.
Lundie, Catherine. “Doubly Dispossessed: Kate Chopin’s Women of Color”: 126–44.
Ellis, Nancy S. “Sonata No. 1 in Prose, the ‘Von Stoltz’: Musical Structure in an Early Work by Kate Chopin”: 145–56.
Ewell, Barbara C. “Making Places: Kate Chopin and the Art of Fiction”: 157–71.
Boren, Lynda S., and Sara deSaussure Davis (eds.), Kate Chopin Reconsidered: Beyond the Bayou. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992. The book contains these essays:
Toth, Emily. “Kate Chopin Thinks Back Through Her Mothers: Three Stories by Kate Chopin”: 15–25.
Bardot, Jean. “French Creole Portraits: The Chopin Family from Natchitoches Parish”: 26–35.
Thomas, Heather Kirk. “‘What Are the Prospects for the Book?’: Rewriting a Woman’s Life”: 36–57.
Black, Martha Fodaski. “The Quintessence of Chopinism”: 95–113.
Ewell, Barbara C. “Kate Chopin and the Dream of Female Selfhood”: 157–65.
Davis, Sara deSaussure. “Chopin’s Movement Toward Universal Myth”: 199–206.
Blythe, Anne M. “Kate Chopin’s ‘Charlie’”: 207–15.
Ellis, Nancy S. “Insistent Refrains and Self-Discovery: Accompanied Awakenings in Three Stories by Kate Chopin”: 216–29.
Toth, Emily, ed. A Vocation and a Voice by Kate Chopin. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Showalter, Elaine. Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing. Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 1991.
Papke, Mary E. Verging on the Abyss: The Social Fiction of Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton. New York: Greenwood, 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. The book contains these essays:
Ziff, Larzer. “An Abyss of Inequality”: 17–24.
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “The Fiction of Limits: ‘Désirée’s Baby’”: 35–42.
Dyer, Joyce C. “Gouvernail, Kate Chopin’s Sensitive Bachelor”: 61–69.
Dyer, Joyce C. “Kate Chopin’s Sleeping Bruties”: 71–81.
Gardiner, Elaine. “‘Ripe Figs’: Kate Chopin in Miniature”: 83–87.
Ewell, Barbara C. Kate Chopin. New York: Ungar, 1986.
Skaggs, Peggy. Kate Chopin. Boston: Twayne, 1985.
Toth, Emily, ed. Regionalism and the Female Imagination. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1984.
Stein, Allen F. After the Vows Were Spoken: Marriage in American Literary Realism. Columbus: Ohio UP, 1984.
Huf, Linda. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman: The Writer as Heroine in American Literature. New York: Ungar, 1983.
Christ, Carol P. Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest. Boston: Beacon, 1980.
Springer, Marlene. Edith Wharton and Kate Chopin: A Reference Guide. Boston: Hall, 1976.
Cahill, Susan. Women and Fiction: Short Stories by and about Women. New York: New American Library, 1975.
Seyersted, Per, ed. “The Storm” and Other Stories by Kate Chopin: With The Awakening. Old Westbury: Feminist P, 1974.
Freedman, Florence B., et al. Special Issue: Whitman, Chopin, and O’Faolain. WWR, 1970.
Leary, Lewis, ed. The Awakening and Other Stories by Kate Chopin. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.
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.