20 December 2009

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper, 1892

A psychological horror story that owes much in style to Edgar Allan Poe. The narrator, whose name may or may not be Jane, keeps a journal while she herself is kept in a room with disturbing yellow wallpaper, all as a way of curing her post-natal depression. During her descent into madness her husband only sees the situation without seeing the struggle of the woman inside; this aspect of the story I still find unnatural as, being a doctor himself, he would surely notice something unsettling going on with his wife. Gilman’s own experiences and the disastrous ‘resting cure’ she was proscribed by the renowned doctor S. Weir Mitchell for her own depression are the origins of the book; Mitchell, named in person in the story, took Gilman’s criticism seriously and to his credit abandoned this form of treatment for depression. The medical and Victorian family traditions that inform the story are the real mental confinements of the tale with the wallpaper a clever if slightly vague metaphor. Not a story I’ve ever actually enjoyed, but there are elements here that can apply as much to men as women when it comes to medical treatment that somehow ignores the needs of the patient.  PY


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