The Yellow Wallpaperby Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Seven thought-provoking stories employ charm and humor to examine relations between the sexes from a feminist perspective. In addition to the title story, an 1892 classic that recounts a woman's descent into madness, this collection includes 'Cottagette,' 'Turned,' 'Mr. Peebles' Heart,' and more.
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The Yellow Wallpaper
By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Charlotte Perkins Gilman
All rights reserved.
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
A colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity — but that would be asking too much of fate!
Still I will proudly declare that there is something queer about it.
Else, why should it be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.
John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.
John is a physician, and perhaps — (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) — perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.
You see he does not believe I am sick!
And what can one do?
If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression — a slight hysterical tendency — what is one to do?
My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing.
So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to "work" until I am well again.
Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
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.
I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus — but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad.
So I will let it alone and talk about the house.
The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.
There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden — large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them.
There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now.
There was some legal trouble, I believe, something about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years.
That spoils my ghostliness, I am afraid, but I don't care — there is something strange about the house — I can feel it.
I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window.
I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.
But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself — before him, at least, and that makes me very tired.
I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! but John would not hear of it.
He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another.
He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.
I have a schedule prescription for each hour in the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get. "Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear," said he, "and your food somewhat on your appetite; but air you can absorb all the time." So we took the nursery at the top of the house.
It is a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly, with windows that look all ways, and air and sunshine galore. It was nursery first and then playroom and gymnasium, I should judge; for the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings and things in the walls.
The paint and paper look as if a boys' school had used it. It is stripped off — the paper — in great patches all around the head of my bed, about as far as I can reach, and in a great place on the other side of the room low down. I never saw a worse paper in my life.
One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.
It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide — plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.
The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.
It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.
No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.
There comes John, and I must put this away, — he hates to have me write a word.
We have been here two weeks, and I haven't felt like writing before, since that first day.
I am sitting by the window now, up in this atrocious nursery, and there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as I please, save lack of strength.
John is away all day, and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious!
But these nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing.
John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.
Of course it is only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way!
I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!
Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able, — to dress and entertain, and order things.
It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby!
And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous.
I suppose John never was nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about this wall-paper!
At first he meant to repaper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.
He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.
"You know the place is doing you good," he said, "and really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house just for a three months' rental."
"Then do let us go downstairs," I said, "there are such pretty rooms there."
Then he took me in his arms and called me a blessed little goose, and said he would go down to the cellar, if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.
But he is right enough about the beds and windows and things.
It is an airy and comfortable room as any one need wish, and, of course, I would not be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for a whim.
I'm really getting quite fond of the big room, all but that horrid paper.
Out of one window I can see the garden, those mysterious deepshaded arbors, the riotous old-fashioned flowers, and bushes and gnarly trees.
Out of another I get a lovely view of the bay and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from the house. I always fancy I see people walking in these numerous paths and arbors, but John has cautioned me not to give way to fancy in the least. He says that with my imaginative power and habit of story-making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency. So I try.
I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me.
But I find I get pretty tired when I try.
It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship about my work. When I get really well, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now.
I wish I could get well faster.
But I must not think about that. This paper looks to me as if it knew what a vicious influence it had!
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.
I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! I used to lie awake as a child and get more entertainment and terror out of blank walls and plain furniture than most children could find in a toy store.
I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend.
I used to feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce I could always hop into that chair and be safe.
The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.
The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother — they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.
Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.
But I don't mind it a bit — only the paper.
There comes John's sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing.
She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!
But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.
There is one that commands the road, a lovely shaded winding road, and one that just looks off over the country. A lovely country, too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.
This wall-paper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly then.
But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so — I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.
There's sister on the stairs!
Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am tired out. John thought it might do me good to see a little company, so we just had mother and Nellie and the children down for a week.
Of course I didn't do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now.
But it tired me all the same.
John says if I don't pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.
But I don't want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his hands once, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only more so!
Besides, it is such an undertaking to go so far.
I don't feel as if it was worth while to turn my hand over for anything, and I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.
Of course I don't when John is here, or anybody else, but when I am alone.
And I am alone a good deal just now. John is kept in town very often by serious cases, and Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to.
So I walk a little in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down up here a good deal.
I'm getting really fond of the room in spite of the wall-paper. Perhaps because of the wall-paper.
It dwells in my mind so!
I lie here on this great immovable bed — it is nailed down, I believe — and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.
It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise.
Looked at in one way each breadth stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes — a kind of "debased Romanesque" with delirium tremens — go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing seaweeds in full chase.
The whole thing goes horizontally, too, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.
They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion.
There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and there, when the crosslights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost fancy radiation after all, — the interminable grotesques seem to form around a common centre and rush off in headlong plunges of equal distraction.
It makes me tired to follow it. I will take a nap I guess.
I don't know why I should write this.
I don't want to.
I don't feel able.
And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way — it is such a relief!
But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.
Half the time now I am awfully lazy, and lie down ever so much.
John says I mustn't lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.
Dear John! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia.
But he said I wasn't able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make out a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.
It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose.
And dear John gathered me up in his arms, and just carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.
He said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well.
He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me.
There's one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to occupy this nursery with the horrid wall-paper.
If we had not used it, that blessed child would have! What a fortunate escape! Why, I wouldn't have a child of mine, an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds.
I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all, I can stand it so much easier than a baby, you see.
Of course I never mention it to them any more — I am too wise, — but I keep watch of it all the same.
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.
Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day.
It is always the same shape, only very numerous.
And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like it a bit. I wonder — I begin to think — I wish John would take me away from here!
It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so.
But I tried it last night.
It was moonlight. The moon shines in all around just as the sun does.
I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, and always comes in by one window or another.
John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till I felt creepy.
The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out.
I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake.
Excerpted from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Copyright © 2015 Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 - August 17, 1935) was a prominent American feminist, 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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this is one of the best short stories i've ever read. we read it in my women's lit class senior year and i was completely enamored with it.
I usually prefer novels and I feel like short stories are too short but this book of short stories was the exception. For the first story alone- Yellow Wallpaper- it's worth it to read this book. It definitely leaves an after taste sort of the way you feel the first time you read The Lottery. I still sometimes think about this story.
Too bad it has taken about a century and public figures such as Brooke Shields to make the public recognize a serious illness that can be helped. I find it so amazing how the medical specialists of Ms. Perkins' day, in their attempt to "heal" her problem, did the worst thing that could be done for her, take away her child AND isolate her from the world. I'm thankful we have finally come a long way since then in recognizing post-partum depression despite the length of time it took to get there. Here's one more demonstration how a woman's view is important and needs to be listened to and learned from rather than put down as inferior and invalid.
Great book...this is one book I think every woman and man needs to read. It is very short but the lesson/message is simply amazing...
Sad & scary how easily she was lost.
Creepy and stupid. Not worth the 30 minutes it takes to read.
Creepyy and quirky and strange. Loved it.
Very good! It's about a woman who suffers from a kind of nervous depression, and her husband (a doctor), who doesn't believe there's anything wrong with her. In the beginning, I really empathised with both the woman and her husband. It's obvious from how she describes him that he really does love her. But he's ignorant, and this is in a time when men and woman had a well-defined place in society, and neither were allowed to deviate from it. I do believe that in the beginning of the story, her problem is very slight, but all of the things her husband instructs her to do only serve to make her condition worse. He still can't see it, but I think he wants the best for her. By the end of the story, she is suffering paranoid delusions, and I don't think she would've gotten to that point if her husband had taken her seriously in the beginning. This is a powerfully hard-hitting tale of a creative mind trapped in the body of a mere woman, and in that time, nobody takes a woman seriously. It's not her husband's fault, either; he's just been conditioned that way, like all men of his time. But so many atrocities were committed against women in those days, consciously, and as a result of pure apathy. Today, she would've gotten all the help she needed!
Fascinating tale of madness delivered in the guise of good intentions. Subtly written by a master.
Baically if you really think about it this book is about a woman in an insane asylum. At first she thinks that the dictir is her husband and what not and i cant remember the nurse but as ou could tell this lady changes the nurses name three times. The yellow wallpaper does drape her room and she thinks she has a baby with said husband. But the room has bars on the window and a bed with straps on it. And scratch marks on the walls... in the end you realize thatbshe isbdragging herself around the room on he walls and she is acting like a child theb the doctor faints or is killed depending your you opion in it....but if you know a little about the author she actually did go suicidal and killed herself i think it was after losing her daughter or somethkng to teburkulosis...
The words skitter through my mind with a life of their own.
Disappointed that this e-book is not free! It is on Amazon :(