|The Yellow Wallpaper|
The Yellow Wallpaper and other Stories
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Wow. I am so, so, glad I picked up this slim little volume of short stories last week at Bluestockings. A sticker on the front said “$2.50 – What a Steal!,” so I couldn’t pass it up. And it certainly was a steal. The title story is an excellent piece of psychological horror, rating up there with The Turn of the Screw and The Lifted Veil.
The gist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is that a young wife and mother is suffering from postpartum depression (or something similar), and is prescribed a period of quiet rest, free from intellectual pursuits, so that she may recover her nerves. Instead, the lack of stimulation helps her spiral further down into the depths of her illness. She becomes obsessed with the repugnant yellow wallpaper plastered in her sickroom.
…There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.
I get positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness. Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two breadths didn’t match, and the eyes go all up and down the line, one a little higher than the other.
It is excellent, as are the other stories (which sometimes read as parables) in the collection. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is probably the least directly preachy, but Gilman still gets her message across loud and clear. Honestly, though, even when she’s at her most instructive feminist self, I remained in awe at the pure radicalness of her ideas. Talk about ahead of her time – she’s ahead of where we are in the United States today.
I’m interested in learning more about Gilman. She wrote an autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There are at least two biographies of her life: To Herland and Beyond: The Life of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, by Ann J. Lane, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, by Mary A. Hill. Unfortunately, her wikipedia page shows that for all her awesome radical views on gender, she held some seriously problematic beliefs regarding race/ethnicity (why, 18th century feminists were you so full of fail when it came to intersectionality?)