I first read this book for a critical approaches class on my
English degree course… It took me my bus ride to uni to finish it (approx. 45mins); a very short book but very captivating none the less. I recently re-read it, thinking that this tiny piece of Victorian Literature would be
perfect for discussion on this very website. It is about living with and trying to recover from mental illness within the social “norms” of Victorian
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote this semi-autobiographical book to
illustrate the inequality of marriage and the repression men impose upon their
wives. She was a pioneering feminist intellectual and journalist, and many at
this time found The Yellow Wallpaper unreadable. The way Gilman wrote the main
character’s arresting insanity was declared shocking and unnerving.
The narrator of this story, whose name we never learn, records
her time at a summer house, a special retreat in order for her to get over the “nervous
depression” that she suffers from. This stream of consciousness first describes
the narrator’s surroundings before mentioning her illness and the restraints
imposed upon her by her husband and her doctor, the domineering male in her life.
“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?”
What follows is her descent into madness. She writes to relieve
her mind, even though her husband doesn’t want her to, thinking it unhelpful to
her condition. She describes how her mind wonders and what she sees in the
disgusting yellow wallpaper of the old children’s room which is now her own.
I won’t give away too much of what follows, I’ll leave that for
you to discover should you so wish, which I definitely recommend you do. It’s
an engrossing, psychological, and interesting read, which transports you into a
realm of madness. And there’s nothing like a bit of psychological trauma as a
bit of escapism.
Personally, I found it beautifully disturbing.