“Regret” is Kate Chopin’s short story about a fiftyish, unmarried woman who becomes responsible for the care of her neighbor’s four children.
Read the story in a PDF
Time and place
When the story was written and published
Questions and answers
What other scholars say about the story
New: “Regret” in Arabic
Articles and book chapters 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, 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.
- 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
- Marline: Odile’s daughter
- Marcélette: Odile’s daughter
- Valise: working for Odile
- Aunt Ruby: Aurélie’s cook
The narrative takes place at the farm of Mamzelle Aurélie–apparently in rural Louisiana.
As we explain in the questions and answers below, readers often focus on the idea of motherhood in the story and how Kate Chopin approaches that subject. Readers are often troubled by Chopin’s use of what today is offensive racial phrasing. And some readers struggle with the dialect spoken by characters in the story.
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 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).
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 a native speaker of English 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: This painful subject requires a sense of historical imagination, historical empathy. Chopin’s language here 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, usually 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 online 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.”
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.”
A Third Kate Chopin Short Story in Arabic
We are grateful to hear from Professor Lina Ibrahim at Bayan University College, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, who tells us that she has translated “Regret,” Kate Chopin’s short story, into Arabic. It is published in al-adab.com, an online literary magazine. You can read “Regret” and Lina Ibrahim’s earlier translations, “The Story of an Hour” and “Désirée’s Baby,” on the al-adab.com website.
We asked Professor Ibrahim why she chose to translate these three stories. She replied:
“Each story struck a chord with me. The three women: Désirée, Louise, and Mamzelle Aurélie represent three types of women caught up in situations that other women can relate to until the end of time.
“Désirée faces what so many women face: If there’s a problem, blame it on the woman. Her husband, recognizing the color of his son, is unable to blame anyone but his young beautiful wife. As a man, he thinks of himself as infallible and believes the woman must be responsible for a sin and must be punished (for a crime, it turns out, she did not commit).
“Louise represents miserable women caught in a traditional marriage. They have everything, yet they aren’t happy. The moment of revelation that comes to Louise while grieving the death of her husband brings with it a state of ecstasy. Now she is free, now she understands that her marriage was a prison from which she is finally released. I do believe that many women nowadays find themselves in similar marriages.
“Mamzelle Aurélie is a spinster by choice. She realizes too late that the outcome of her decision to not marry is a life of loneliness. What I relate to in the story is her realization that the children made her aware of what she was missing—not the absence of a male partner, not marriage as an institution, but the joy that comes with having children, connecting with and taking care of them. Here lies the regret of her choice.”
For students and scholars
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.
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.
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.
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.