Maternity vs. Autonomy in Chopin’s “Regret”

  • Heather Ostman
Part of the American Literature Readings in the Twenty-First Century book series (ALTC)


In the 1894 short story “Regret,” Kate Chopin presents the female character of Mamzelle Aurélie as a figure of conventional masculinity. In her “man’s hat” and “old blue army coat,” Chopin tells us, she is essentially alone, except for the companionship of her dog. However, when her neighbor Odile shows up one day and leaves her four children to stay with her for two weeks, Mamzelle Aurélie begins to learn there is more to mothering—to her surprise—than just feeding and sheltering children. Through the education of Mamzelle Aurélie, who is taught how to mother by her cook, Aunt Ruby, and especially by the children themselves, Chopin raises the question of women’s essential nature. In contrast to other Chopin stories, such as The Awakening and “Athénaïse,” which raise similar questions, “Regret” reconfigures conventional Victorian assumptions about woman’s maternal “instinct” and suggests that it is the presence of children—not solely biology—that is the key to unlocking the maternal response. Through the character of Mamzelle Aurélie, Chopin constructs a far less conventional role for older women, one that draws upon the two predominant feminist schools of thought at the time: the essentialist and the antiessentialist approaches to woman’s “nature.” As a result, Chopin develops a mature female character whose newly found maternal instincts and inherent independence anticipate the New Woman of the next century and collapse the binary categories of feminist thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Gender Role Sensual Experience Short Story Surrogate Mother Maternal Role 
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Copyright information

© Heather Ostman and Kate O’Donoghue 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather Ostman

There are no affiliations available

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