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Flingo 26th June 2006 10:16 PM

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Last week I felt a sudden urge to reread Charlotte Perkins Gilmore's The Yellow Wallpaper. I studied it for my A level English Lit, and we did a lot of extensive analysis (most of which I have forgotten), alongside comparison to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.


It was fascinating to reread it on it's own, although I do now really want to reread The Bell Jar too!

Yellow Wallpaper is a novella written in diary form. The narrator (whose name we do not learn) relates the story of her struggle against post natal depression, and the attitudes taken against her by society - particularly her husband John who is a doctor "and does not believe I am sick".


Although only 25 pages, there is so much emotion and the diary style is incredibly powerful. I was amazed by how much I could relate from memory nearly 9 years after I read it first.


Small but perfectly formed.


While I cannot find any summary / review online, the whole text is easily available from a number of pages to read online if you are interested.


Hazel 27th June 2006 07:45 AM


I studied this story a couple of years ago, and yes it is laden with heavy symbolism, but on the surface it is still a great short story. CPG suffered from post-natal depression herself and a famous doctor at the time had told her to stop writing as it wasn't conducive to recovery, hence the story and the protagonist being told to stop writing. After the story was published the famous doctor apologised for his treatment and resolved to change the way he treated post natal depression.


What I particularly like about the story is that though she begins perfectly sane, the treatment she is subjected to drives her mad, and the writing clearly captures her descent. The imagery, her snatches of writing, and the dialogues with her husband descend into madness along with her mind.


It is such a good example of how powerful short stories can be. Good thread Flingo!


megustaleer 27th June 2006 08:14 PM


Originally Posted by Flingo

While I cannot find any summary / review online, the whole text is easily available from a number of pages to read online if you are interested.


Try this


It is ten years since I read this, but I remember being gripped by the way the diarist's descent into madness is demonstrated by her diary entries.


At that time I did not know of Gilman's own experience of postnatal depression, I wonder if it would have altered my view of the book.


donnae 27th June 2006 10:09 PM


Thanks for that link Meg.


When I read Flingo's opening post, I thought that this sounded like a modern story. I was amazed to see that it was published in 1892. Considering the stigmas that even now, are still attached to post-natal depression, I am surprised that it was recognised that long ago.


It sounds a very interesting read.


Hilary 27th August 2006 03:52 PM


Yes, it is, it's a fascinating read. I don't normally 'do' short stories (and perhaps I should) but this one had so much crammed into it, you felt it was much longer. I studied it for my degree and can remember thinking that it must be a clever writer who can make so few words convey so much.


Artegall 18th September 2006 11:40 PM


Wow, I too read this in 6th form, and it's an absolutely extraordinary bit of writing. I remember we did it because I had the same GCSE teacher as I did for A Levels; there was another Perkins Gilmore story in the GCSE anthology and I distinctly remember him stopping midway through a lesson after he'd told us to read it and saying, in somewhat shocked tones, "This woman shouldn't be in a GCSE anthology - she can actually write!"


Anyway, that meant he crowbarred The Yellow Wallpaper into a 6th form lesson, and I still have my photocopied sheets of it to this day. I have to say it reminds me a bit of Virginia Woolf.


barblue 19th September 2006 06:09 AM


Yes, thanks for the link Meg. I too read this whilst studying for my degree. A powerful piece that stays in your head whether you want it to or not. As I was already a mother at the time, though not suffering to the same extent after my second son was born, I was able to empathise. In fact it made me realise how lucky I had been. The helplessness of being caught in that cocoon of spiraling depression is terrifying and I think that comes across so powerfully in The Yellow Wallpaper.

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  • 9 years later...

I read The Yellow-Wallpaper a few days ago, after it was recommended to me by multiple teachers and students. I think it is very interesting how the narrator's name isn't revealed to the reader, she is nameless and therefore harder to form a connection with as a character, in my opinion. I think the lack of name also shows the position of women in society during the time and the whole story itself deals with the unequal position of women in marriage. For me, the story also addresses the stigma around mental health issues, especially women with these issues, the fact that John, the narrator's husband and a high standing physician, describes his wife's illness as nothing but a 'slight hysterical tendency' is proof of the lack of understanding around mental health issues and the view that those suffering from mental health issues are just slightly hysterical or weak willed. Despite being published in 1892, I think The Yellow-Wallpaper's message can be applied to modern day society, especially with the stigma around mental health and I believe that Gilman is an amazing author, I can't really believe there isn't much on her tag here!

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I found it slightly unnerving towards the end but I wouldn't say it's a horror story and I didn't really get the impression that it was a horror story either. I found it to be more of a semi-autobiographical statement on society more than anything else. I kind of wish it was longer and had a slower development of the narrator's madness, I think this would have made it more of a horror story!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just finished reading this - again - for my own benefit.  It is a shocking story but I didn't find it horrific.  I agree with Lemlest in wishing it was longer with a slower development of the narrator's descent into insanity.


My copy, this time around (I gave my oriignal one away), is by Wisehouse Classics and has the original illustrations by Joseph Henry Hatfield.  It also has an interesting introduction by CPG herself saying that this actually happened to her but she ignored the advice and carried on working thus believing that it was this that saved her.  Now that's scary!

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CPG suffered a severe bout of 'post-partum depression' after her daughter, Katherine, was born. She was just seen as 'hysterical' and her claims of depression were classed as invalid because of her gender and the views on women's mental health at the time. She had to endure unusual treatments for her depression, such as being forced to rest in bed basically all day, but as Luna said she kept writing/working! 


Just a little background information/context for those who didn't know  :D

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