★ ★ ★ ★
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman | January 1892 | Project Gutenberg | Public domain
First published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is a very short novella, which traces a woman’s descent into madness, when she is subjected to the Weir Mitchell Rest Cure and forbidden to use her imagination or undertake any activity.
My goodness, what a creepy/depressing piece of literature this is.
It’s clear to the modern reader that the narrator is suffering from some form of mental illness. Postpartum depression, perhaps, or an anxiety disorder. Of course, in the Victorian era (when this short story was written), a woman with these kinds of problems was simply labelled “hysterical” or was said to have a nervous condition.
The narrator’s husband, being a physician, is the one who has diagnosed her with a slight hysterical tendency and ordered her to take a rest cure in the countryside. Thus she must spend all day every day under his direction, and her schedule consists of nothing much more than brief walks in the garden, meals, and solitary time in the room with the yellow wallpaper.
She hates this yellow wallpaper, with its irritating and repellent pattern which has been stripped off the wall in some places by previous occupants, and she begins to obsess over it.
The poor woman is not only anxious/depressed, but she has absolutely nothing to do to occupy her time. She is not even allowed to write, much less have any useful exercise or roll in the running of the household. Her own baby is being nursed by someone else. Her husband infantilizes her and tells her that she would get well if only she had more self-control. This, as much as any preexisting mental condition, is what ultimately drives her over the edge of sanity.
It’s amazing to me how much of a punch can be packed into a short story of only 15 pages. I couldn’t help but feel sadness for this woman who slipped so quickly into severe mental illness, exacerbated by the patronizing treatment she’d been subjected to.
This is a tough one to rate, partly because it’s so short and partly because it’s brilliant but not in any way a favorite of mine. I won’t personally re-read it (it is very disturbing!), but I do want to recommend it to anyone interested in the way mood disorders were handled in the late 19th century.
- Biography of the author at the Poetry Foundation
- Biography of the author at the National Women’s History Museum
- ‘The Evolution of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’ in Harvard’s Radcliffe Magazine
- The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society
Publication information: Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. Salt Lake City, UT: Project Gutenberg, 2008. EPUB.
Source: Project Gutenberg Ebooks, www.gutenberg.org/ebooks.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.