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From the Publisher"The most original and challenging mind which the [women's] movement produced."
—Carrie Chapman Catt
"There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver."—Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), a leading figure in the women's movement of the early twentieth century, is a pillar of the American feminist canon. This edition of her work includes her best-known story, "The Yellow Wall-paper," a terrifying tale about a woman driven to the brink of insanity by the "rest cure" she is ordered to follow by her doctor to relieve her postpartum ...
"There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver."—Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), a leading figure in the women's movement of the early twentieth century, is a pillar of the American feminist canon. This edition of her work includes her best-known story, "The Yellow Wall-paper," a terrifying tale about a woman driven to the brink of insanity by the "rest cure" she is ordered to follow by her doctor to relieve her postpartum depression. Also included is a wide range of other short stories; an abridged version of her little-known but brilliant utopian novel, Herland, about a peaceful all-female world; and selections from her landmark treatise, Women and Economics, first published in 1898 to universal acclaim.
A woman gradually suffers a mental breakdown as a result of confinement and denial of her creative energies by her husband.
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 co-heirs; 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 repellant, 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."
|About the Series|
|About This Volume|
|List of Illustrations|
|Pt. 1||The Yellow Wallpaper: The Complete Text||1|
|Introduction: Cultural and Historical Background||3|
|Chronology of Gilman's Life and Times||29|
|A Note on the Text||40|
|The Yellow Wallpaper [1892 New England Magazine Edition]||41|
|Pt. 2||The Yellow Wallpaper: Cultural Contexts||61|
|1||Conduct Literature and Motherhood Manuals||63|
|A Treatise on Domestic Economy||65|
|The Ugly-Girl Papers||74|
|"What Shall We Do with the Mothers?"||95|
|Winsome Womanhood: Familiar Talks on Life and Conduct||102|
|How to Win: A Book for Girls||110|
|The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs||120|
|Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked||133|
|"Nervousness and Its Influence on Character"||142|
|"The Evolution of the Rest Treatment"||144|
|Maternity; A Book for Every Wife and Mother||150|
|The Household Monitor of Health||155|
|The Ladies' Guide in Health and Disease||157|
|The Puerperal Diseases||180|
|3||Sexuality, Race, and Social Control||189|
|1873 Comstock Law||192|
|Traps for the Young||195|
|Address to the National Congress of Mothers, March 13, 1905||203|
|"The Causes of Race Superiority"||210|
|"Sexual Perversion in the Female||229|
|"Sexual Inversion in Women"||236|
|"Parasitism and Civilised Vice"||259|
|4||Movements for Social Change||278|
|Looking Backward: 2000-1887||286|
|Twenty Years at Hull-House||297|
|Theory of the Leisure Class||311|
|Women and Economics||317|
|"Think Husbands Aren't Mainstays"||325|
|"Dr. Clair's Place"||327|
|The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman||334|
|5||Literary Responses and Literary Culture||345|
|"Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper?"||347|
|On the Reception of "The Yellow Wallpaper"||349|
|Criticism and Fiction||352|
|The Diary of Alice James||364|
|"The Story of an Hour"||366|
1. At the turn of the twentieth century, women suffering from depression, mood disorders, or mental illness-what was then termed "hysteria"-were often prescribed long periods of bed rest. This was not a treatment usually prescribed for men suffering from the same symptoms. Why do you think doctors prescribed this therapy only for their female patients? Can you think of any diseases today that are "gendered"? Do you think it is significant that the room with the yellow wallpaper was once a child's nursery?
2. On the last page of "The Yellow Wall-paper," Gilman writes: "'I got out at last,'said I, 'in spite of you and Jane.'"Who do you think Jane is? And who is the "I"?
3. In her 1935 autobiography, Gilman wrote, "The one predominant duty is to find one's work and do it." How do the characters' concepts of "duty" in "The Cottagette" and "Mr. Peebles' Heart" inform their work? What role does music play in both of these stories?
4. What do you think Gilman thought of the relationship between mental activity and physical activity? What associations does she see between activity and health?
5. In "If I Were a Man," Gerald concludes that "women have their limitations, but so do we, God knows." Would you argue that this is a "sexist" comment? Why or why not?
6. What do you think the physical location and climate of Gilman's female utopia in Herland signify? What does Gilman communicate to the reader about women's place in society, and their relation to men?
7. Why do you think Gilman chose a male narrator for Herland? What stereotypes of women do Van, Terry, and Jeff hold when they arrive in Herland? How do their opinions change throughout the novel?
8. In Women and Economics, what are Gilman's suggestions for improving the status of women, both financially and culturally? How do you think readers in 1898 might have argued against Gilman's ideas?
9. Alexander Black writes in "The Woman Who Saw It First," which introduces this volume and was first published in 1923, that "so much of [Gilman's] preaching that was once regarded as revolutionary is now a matter of polite consideration, if not practice, that her total effect is no longer so sharply radical as it was to the generation to which we look back." Do you agree that Gilman's views are no longer radical? In what ways do you think she would be heartened by the state of women's rights today? In what ways do you think she would be disappointed?
Posted December 10, 2001
The novel THE YELLOW WALLPAPER AND OTHER WRITIINGS, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, proves to be a direct portrayal of the weak perception in which the American society has looked upon women in the present day and the past. The strength and potential these female victims possess is immense, and will remain so until independence is achieved. The majority of Gilman's short stories, especially the title story 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' seem to reflect personal past experiences, frustrations, in addition to the outcomes of these issues. Her writing is cynical, and best described as mind-consuming. Gilman's syntax and diction paint a full, descriptive, original picture of the protagonist. At the same time, Gilman is compact, utilizing the single effect by relaying her theme from the first words of every story. This novel and collection is a must read for both genders alike. It opens and stretches the mind to imagination, reality, and back again. HERLAND, included in the collection, provides a similar challenge, intertwining the believable and the unbelievable, while forcing the reader to assess one's life and mindset in a universal manner. This piece of literature instills a newfound urgency for feminism in each of its female and male readers as well, refreshing the mind and soul with a deserved confidence as well as a renewed independence. As Gilman reflected upon her piece 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' '...It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked...' ('Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper,' 1913). Everyone has something to learn from this astute woman.
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Posted January 31, 2012
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