The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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First published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. In the involuntary confinement of her bedroom, the hero creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper–a pattern that has come to symbolize her own imprisonment. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, “The Yellow Wallpaper” stands out not only for the imaginative authenticity with which it depicts one woman’s descent into insanity, but also for the power of its testimony to the importance of freedom and self-empowerment for women.

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Hello bookworms! I haven’t devoted much time at all to reading and/ or writing in the past few weeks (sad face). At the weekend I found myself with a spare 30 minutes in town, so I opportunistically slipped into my favourite book emporium for a brief browse. Happily, I stumbled across one tiny but brilliant book and I just had to share it with you.

At 6,000 words The Yellow Wallpaper is a very swift read. I polished it off in a short lunch break of a Tuesday afternoon. Despite its brevity, or maybe because of it, this short story swam around in my head for the rest of the day.

The Yellow Wallpaper was written in the late 19th century and highlights the woes of a woman in wedlock. It is a disturbing account of women’s place in a patriarchal society and the doctors and husbands who control them. Its a wonder that men ever got married at all; they clearly wanted servants and surrogates rather than equals to spend their lives with.  As I read, there were several incidences in which I forgot that this book was not written last Thursday but in the 1890s. The most upsetting notion for me was the pressure on women to choose between family and a career. Soz Gilman, but one hundred and thirty years later, that one is still kind of a thing.

The main character is slowly going insane but it is so gradual and the narration so full of reasoning that when the realisation of her mental degradation becomes apparent it is quite alarming.  I felt much like a lobster while reading this story; I started out mostly alive, splashing about in cold water, minding my own business, feeling refreshed at the thought of reading a new story. Then, Gilman slowly cranks up the heat, cunningly leading the way down a gradually heated spiral, distracting me with beautiful, feminist prose and concealing me behind a yellow wall, so that I didn’t understand that I was dying.  (Too many metaphors? Just to confirm, I am not dead).  This style of writing – the convincing reasoning and the logic; the manipulation and the painful twists, reminds me very much of Tanith Lee (Red as Blood) and particularly Lee’s take on The Pied Piper (The Paid Piper, 1981).

This publication (Virago Modern Classics, pictured) is particularly interesting, as it includes a thoughtful afterword by Elaine R. Hedges in which she analyses the story and provides a brief biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from her early childhood to her tragically predetermined end.

I would definitely recommend that you read this book.

Go! Go buy it now!

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2 thoughts on “The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  1. Such an awesome book. One of the best allegories out there. Thanks for sharing the super thorough review! If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

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