‘Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over…’
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prominent writer and feminist, primarily in the 19th century. In the day of an all-female Ghostbusters reboot, it is perhaps difficult to conjure up a time when women would routinely be consigned to bed rest for ‘hysteria’, which basically translates as ‘having an opinion’.
Gilman herself spent three months suffering under such conditions and it was whilst enjoying only two hours of ‘social time’ a day that she wrote the seminal novel The Yellow Wallpaper.
The protagonist in The Yellow Wallpaper is a woman who is constantly told that she should suppress her desires to write, or raise her child, or anything that could ‘set her off’, by her domineering husband. The fact that the short story is written in a narrative style, from the point of view of the shackled woman, makes her eventual descent into ill health all the more compelling.
At the start of the story, the narrator finds herself to be mildly perplexed with the yellow wallpaper that adorns the room of her imprisonment. By the end a minor fascination has become an obsession and without wanting to give too much away, the ending is powerful and resonant.
The Yellow Wallpaper is not just a passionate critique of attitudes towards women in the 19th century; it is also a chilling Gothic novella that is as much a gripping thriller as it is biting social satire. At only 6000 words, it is possible to read The Yellow Wallpaper in half an hour. I would urge anyone that hasn’t already to do so at the first opportunity.