Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Virago Modern Classic #50

Such a little book. Just 36 pages in my (earlier) Virago Modern Classics edition.

But what those 36 pages hold is extraordinary.

A nameless woman tells her own story. Her words are sparse but her voice comes through clear and direct.

She and her husband have a short-term lease on a large country house. She has recently given birth and appears to be suffering from what we know to be post-natal depression.

But one hundred years ago it was seen rather differently. She want to move freely, and most of all to write. But her husband, a doctor, prescribes complete rest and isolation in an attic room. A room with an iron bedstead, bars on the window and peeling yellow wallpaper.

Why? Because she cannot play the role of submissive role of wife that society – including her friends and family – has cast her in.

She has no outlet for her intellect. No means of expressing her emotions. And minimal human contact.

She becomes obsessed with the room’s hideously patterned yellow wallpaper. At first she simply dislikes it. But she grows to hate it.Then to fear it. And finally she become fascinated, absorbed by the wallpaper and the lives she within and behind it.

It is a stunning portrait of one woman’s descent into madness. And a clear indictment of a particular society’s oppression of women.

So much has been and could be written about The Yellow Wallpaper. But I feel so deeply for its narrator that I cannot write about her words intellectually.

A compelling and deeply unsettling piece of storytelling.


Briony said...

I remember having to read this for uni - it is really well written, and creeped me out! I must read it again.