The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you have read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work, how did you react to it?  Not just ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ (although I’m interested in reactions to it as well), if you’ve read other of her stories, what did you think?  While I recognise feminist aspects to Ms Gilman’s short stories, it seems to me that she was also pointing out that men also suffered as a consequence of societal restrictions.

I’d love to know what my grandmother (born in 1893) would have thought of Ms Gilman’s stories.

‘And what can one do?’

I read this book after reading Odette Kelada’s ‘Drawing Sybylla’, which refers to ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’. I’d never heard of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and I was intrigued by the references in Ms Kelada’s novel. A descent into madness, accompanied by (perhaps even occasioned by) yellow wall-paper? I had to read this story.

It took me two weeks to read the nineteen stories in this collection. ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ took me into places I really didn’t want to revisit: my own experience of psychosis some years ago. And while wall-paper (yellow or otherwise) was not part of my particular psychotic journey, I found it easy to relate to Ms Gilman’s story. I’ve also observed women with postpartum psychosis: how easy the boundary between reality and psychosis can become blurred, and then disappear. How easily inanimate objects take on new (and sometimes terrifying) realities. How hard it can be to find the way back. Imagine being confined to a room for three months, for ‘health reasons’.

As I worked through ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’, found safety back in the real world, and then read Ms Gilman’s other stories, I could observe her thoughts without being overwhelmed by my own. Some of the stories in this collection hint of new possibilities for women, for new roles. But these stories are not only confined to the restrictions placed upon women. Men are also restricted by their duties, stifled as a consequence. ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ is the story foremost in my consciousness because I found it so unsettling. I don’t need to reread it, but I would like to reread some of the other stories in this collection.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) wrote ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’ in 1890.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith