Book Review: The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
March 30, 2015 Article
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Release Date: First published in 1892
Summary (From Goodreads):
‘The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.’
Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.
My partner picked me up this for me from the Penguin Little Black Classics range. We both performed in a stage adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper a few years ago – it wasn’t a brilliant adaptation and we both kind of hated it in the end, but it the story does hold a lot of fun memories (the best for me being playing a crazy woman and rolling around on stage smothering myself in wallpaper).
I wasn’t really sure how I’d find reading the story, especially as our adaptation was pretty much word for word the story (actually, on reading I found it was word for word – lazy adapting there). A lot of people I’d spoken to about it said they’d studied it at school or university and found it boring.
I actually really enjoyed but, but I’m not sure if I was really enjoying the story, or the memories I had from performing it. It made me wonder about the effect nostalgia has on reading. I couldn’t tell if I was enjoying the actually story or just enjoying reliving some good memories. It interested me, as there’s a few other books I’ve re-read and wondered if I’ve actually enjoyed it or just enjoyed the feelings of nostalgia.
Anyway, all of that aside, I do think this is still a powerful feminist short story. The attitudes towards women are appalling, so much so that it’s hard to believe people used to think like that. It’s in the way the woman’s husband talks to her, so patronising it could be a child he’s talking to; it’s in the fact that the woman stays unnamed through the whole story, even though it’s her story she’s narrating; and it’s in her treatment, the way she is told what to do and how to think and is eventually driven insane through inactivity, but which is attributed to her over active imagination.
The story moves a little slowly at first as we see snapshots of the woman’s life as she is mostly left alone in the small attic room with the hideous yellow wallpaper, but it whips up into a frenzy towards the end as she sees a woman trying to escape from the confines of the wallpaper and vows to get her out. The woman’s almost calm madness is quite unsettling as she locks herself in the room and doesn’t seem to recognise her husband at the end.
This book is disturbing, unsettling and I’d recommend it as a quick read to anyone, though I’m aware it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!