- Series: Virago Modern Classics (Book 305)
- Paperback: 64 pages
- Publisher: Virago (1981)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0860682013
- ISBN-13: 978-0860682011
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 527 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,556,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The yellow wallpaper Paperback – Import, 1981
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The unnamed narrator and her doctor husband, John, live in "a colonial mansion, a hereditary estate..." She believes the house is haunted. "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that." She believes she is ill but her husband, and her brother, also a physician, say it is only "temporary nervous depression - a slight hysterical tendency..." They insist on "phosphates or phosphites - whichever it is - and tonics" and absolutely forbid work until she is well again. She believes "Personally...that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal - having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition." She is confined to rest in a room she hates with wallpaper she finds hideously ugly: "The color is repellent, almost revolting: a smoldering unclean yellow... dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others." It is in this room that she writes her secret journal that is this story. She struggles to believe in her husband and brother's "kindness" and "care" while, with terrifying starkness, she narrates her journey into madness. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Jesse Larsen
About the Author
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was a prominent American sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist during a time when her accomplishments were exceptional for women, and she served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story The Yellow Wallpaper which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis.
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That story alone would make this book worthwhile. But here you get a bonus of six extra stories and a thumbnail biography of Gilman. In general, the other stories aren't very good. They are about how women (and one man) free themselves from the dreariness of childcare and domestic life in general – and get to follow more creative pursuits. But it always happens too easily, too fast. Circumstances and other people become all too readily willing to accommodate the freedom-seeker. The women who seek release are too quickly able to convert the men in their lives into seeing the advantages of women's liberation. So although these stories are the product of early 20th century feminist aspirations, it's the men who most often are idealized on these pages. The stories are turned into unrealistic strains of wishful thinking and romantic escapism. Although in one story, “If I Were a man,” Gilman does recognize the dual stereotypes many men impose on women when they view them in Madonna/loose woman alternative.
However, Gilman shows herself to be perhaps a bit too prone to stereotyping life when she assumes that raising children must always be a dull burden. Her stories contain no inkling that such an occupation might be as stimulating as embroidery or giving music lessons – that there might be a Zen of housework that both men and women could sometimes find creative release in practicing. So although “Wallpaper” is a five-star story, I have to demote this book overall to just four stars.
Just one of the of the other stories besides “Wallpaper” goes a little deeper into cross-currents of motive. That story is “The Cottagette.” This is about two women friends who go to a cottage retreat where meals are prepared by a staff at a central lodge. The place seems to be a kind of artists' colony. It's an ideal place, offering the women freedom from humdrum chores. But then both women begin to like the same man at the colony. Then the reader can't be completely sure whether it's solicitousness or sabotage that creeps in to undermine life at the cottagette.
This is a very small book, pamphlet-size – perfect for reading in bed. Except, don't turn your eyes from the book's pages and start to examine the wallpaper in your bedroom. You never know what you'll start to see there...
So imagine my surprise when I am reading this book and I come across the backstory as to why Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. A Civil War doctor use to prescribe what he called "rest cure" for different ailments (mainly mental health related, although they certainly didn't categorize it as such back then). For men, he sent them out West, to be outdoors with other people, hunting, being active, relaxing. But for women, he sentenced them to confinement. Told them they needed to be in an isolated, dark room with no visitors and no stimulation. And people actually accepted this!
Well, most did. Gillman, one of his patients, rejected the idea so soundly that she produced The Yellow Wallpaper as a result. (Apparently Virginia Woolf also met with the doctor and had a similar response). This fact made me think I misjudged this short story all those years ago. So I took to rereading it. With this new knowledge of how it came about (and I am sure a more mature and open mindset), I was able to see just how inspired, angry, and good Gilman's story really is.
This short story follows a woman's mental leaps between relating what's going in her life (she had a baby, her husband is a doctor, etc.) and her strong feelings against the yellow wallpaper in her and her husband's room. Mrs. Gilman's notes about the story later revealed that the reason the main protagonist sounded mentally ill but not melodramatically so was because the author herself went through the "rest cure", which nearly drove her into a mental breakdown before she decided to ignore the guidance of her doctor and return to work.
There are many themes you can glean from the text. It can 1) be an inside look at how women were treated pre-suffrage, 2) be used as honest proof that postpartum depression is and has been a real struggle mothers have had to face for centuries, or 3) be a little Gothic horror story that explores what happens in the mind of the mentally ill.
Below are two of my favorite quotes because they're just so chilling in depth:
"I don't like to LOOK out of the windows even--there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all come out of that wall-paper as I did?" (loc. 378).
"I've got out at last in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" (loc. 388).
Overall, I like to look at is as both a haunting Gothic piece of fiction and as an inside look of how it feels to slowly go mad. The fact that the narrator started believing there was a woman locked in behind the bars of the paper could very well be her own mind's way making sense of the cage holding it back. It's also moving that at the end the narrator say she feels most at home around the wallpaper she'd spited through the majority of her entries.
This massive little story just goes to show how complex our minds truly are, and the dangers that unfold when a mind is oppressed. I highly recommend purchasing an ebook version so as to take plenty of notes while reading.