16 February 2009

The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

If you have a spare fifteen minutes I would seriously recommend reading this short story. Written in 1892, it is the story of a woman suffering from depression (I suspect post-partum) who is taken to stay in a large country house with her husband for three months in order to recover. Husband John is a physician and his cure for his young wife is to keep her away from her child and any 'stimulating acquaintainces'. She spends most of the three months in a room at the top of the house, decorated with a psychedelic yellow wallpaper.

For the first few weeks the woman is able to talk about her confinement logically, although she has an irrational hatred of the wallpaper. Gradually she begins to see a woman in the patterns of the paper, a woman who is trying to get out. Husband John and the housekeeper Jennie become concerned at her fixation with the wallpaper. Suddenly, the woman is convinced that it is she who is the woman in the wallpaper. She ties herself up with rope and walks around the room in constant circles, carving a groove in the wall with her shoulder because she is pressed so tightly against it.
Husband John comes in and faints to see her like this.

I know I've just told you the plot, but that's not the attraction of this story. The writing is fantastic: honest and whimsical prose give way to an unbelievably creepy denouement. The text seems to become faster, the pages turn a lot quicker at the end as the woman's mind speeds towards and then overtakes the line of sanity.

If you can get over the fact that Husband John is a patronising chauvanist and the woman, (even before she goes completely bonkers) is kind of whiney and immature, go sit in a room with bad wallpaper and shot this down like a Patagonian Black Bush.

Rating: 7/10.
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