As you know, May is Short Story month. For my second read, I chose a short story that has been on my TBR for several years. It was recommended to me by a co-worker, and I cannot imagine what made me take so long to get around to reading it.
What a disturbing and memorable little story!
Presented in the first person, the story is a collection of journal entries written by a female unnamed protagonist. She is a young wife and mother. Married to a physician, she is suffering from a “nervous depression, a slight hysterical tendency” (I read post-partum depression). To aid in her ‘recovery’, he takes her to a house which he has rented for three months. He installs her in a room which takes up almost all of the top floor. Its barred windows command views in every direction – and, it has hideous yellow wallpaper.
The young woman feels uneasy in the house – in this horrible room. She cries often, without knowing quite why. Her husband administers tonics to make her better. She feels increasingly unable to think straight.
As the weeks pass, she becomes more and more fanciful. She imagines that her husband gives her strange looks, and, that there is a woman inside the wallpaper eager to get out… she sees the pattern on the wallpaper move.
First published in 1892, this little story is a classic in the truest sense. It has withstood the test of time and is touted by many as feminist fiction, though horror fiction is more accurate in my opinion. I think that this is a story to read and reread many times in order to gain the true measure of its worthiness. It is a testament to the social standing of women in the time it was written. Women were then property of their husband. They were given little to no autonomy. It also addresses the issue of mental illness in the 19th century. A time when the mentally ill were banished from society.
The female protagonist in this story was doomed to a forced convalescence. The very worst thing for her mental health. Her enforced idleness increased her psychosis and she endured a creepy and horrible fate.
This story employs subtle, chilling, psychological horror that worms its way into your mind and imprints upon your brain. Highly recommended!
Charlotte Perkins Gilman; also Charlotte Perkins Stetson, was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1860 and died in Pasadena, California in 1935.