Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The author of The Yellow Wallpaper
The Yellow Wallpaper
had a severe bout of post-partum depression after the birth of her only child, a daughter. We don’t know whether wallpaper entered into the symptomology but her famous story has a creepy power that leaves you unsure whether there may not be an uncanny element at work. Certainly there was spiritual oppression of a well-meaning kind, the fog of psychology that came down between doctors and the mentally ill and in general between all those with enlightened recipes and their patients.
Gilman strikes early and often:

John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage.

John is practical in the extreme. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures.

John is a physician, and PERHAPS—(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind)—PERHAPS that is one reason I do not get well faster.

You see he does not believe I am sick!

And what can one do?

If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?

Double bind spotters will notice “You see he does not believe I am sick!”. The point is that he does believe that she is sick and is keeping a close watch on her in case that in her distress she might injure herself. Thus there are bars on the windows and a gate on the stairs. It might well be the first Mrs. Rochester under a more benign regime. Even the house is a baronial type JacoBethan mansion of some sort that they are renting while there own house is being done up, refitted. The Gothic even medico-Gothic always lays these stumbling block symbols in our path.

The room that she is in or confined to or confined tout court may have been the nursery or schoolroom of yore. But why is this mansion so cheap to rent, is it that it is haunted? The yellow wallpaper writhes as wallpaper does. Who has not experienced this? But I digress. This story builds to a climax and as Oscar Wilde remarked: Either the wallpaper goes or I do.

An excellent story in the narrow but select canon of woman-question horror. She was also well known as a speaker and a progressive thinker.Gillman A paper of hers on the negro question demonstrates the blind spots of that cadre of high minded racists and eugenicists.
negro question


ktismatics said...

A superb treatment. Coincidentally last night we began watching what I presume is still the latest cinematic adaptation of Jane Eyre -- it's quite good.

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks Skholiast. Put upon Jane seems to attract a lot of movies. I couldn't possibly comment on why that might be the case, the second wives fear of the 'attic' must play a part. She who must be burnt out!

skholiast said...

I think you mixed up who had just commented and who was about to. Or maybe you had already read what I'm typing here. Anyway, it's interesting to re-read TYW in light of the recent kerfuffle over the DSM-V. When I first read this story back in my too-cool 20's, I did not appreciate its art, the, ahem, creepy way it insinuates its madness; and the wretched spectacle of the kind-hearted and patronizing "help" of the strong male eventually fainting away.

Om., or ktismatics -- either of you read Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea? (I haven't).

ombhurbhuva said...

Sorry about that John, once you read something 'as' it seems to stay 'as'. And thanks.

Skh.:The Wide Sarragossa Sea is a really good novel, quite short, her best work I think. It's a while since I read it but it's mostly about the time in Jamaica and the various traumatic events that perhaps exacerbated a natural propensity or so Rochester came to think.

I wasn't aware of the fuss about the D.S.M. until I googled it. Do they really think shyness is a clinical condition?

ktismatics said...

I was hoping that a contemptuous Mrs. Danvers would not step out of the shadows to reveal that I am not Rebecca...

Thumbs up from me also on Wide Sargasso Sea. You know, there is a neo-reactionary (neo-fascist) movement out there asserting that on genetic grounds certain races or genders or nationalities are more violent, more stupid, less ambitious, perhaps also more prone to insanity, ultimately more deserving of being under the thumb of Mr. Rochester and the superior gene pool that spawned him. The neo-reacties are pointing smugly to a recent study indicating that, based on historical data on reaction times and the statistical correlation of reaction time to general intelligence, the average IQ in the West has declined 14 points over the past 150 years. The author attributes this drop to a dilution of the gene pool: intelligent (white Western European) women have fewer children compared to less intelligent immigrant women.

ombhurbhuva said...

I was under the impression that I.Q. was actually on the rise, that somehow we were all getting smarter or at least getting better at the tests. Only the “lesser breeds without the law” were dropping behind according to some who take a racial view of intelligence. I believe you. I was looking at a register of shops and trades from 1870 from my very small town, hardly 15,000 pop. At that time. The numbers of crafts and trades that were practised was extraordinary. Now all work is designed to be as dummy-proof as possible . Use it or lose it may apply to the intelligence as well.

ktismatics said...

I was under the same impression. The Flynn effect shows about a 3 point per decade gain in IQ scores, with increases being larger at the lower end of the distribution where the supposedly stupid fertile immigrant women would cluster.

ombhurbhuva said...

It appears to be a matter of study shopping but the common factor is the seeming stupidity of those races that swarm in a perilous fashion. They are also dangerous and volatile and demented attacks like the one in Woolwich in England are exemplary whereas British Nationalists stabbing someone with a turban is ordinary thuggery and not a headline.

skholiast said...

The last time this sort of thing was in the news was when The Bell Curve was ringing alarms. Eugenics is making a comeback. I refuse to extrapolate from supposed scientific data to policy recommendations, and I am suspicious of the data, but it is amusing (in a grim sort of way) to see how quickly the camps change their stripes depending on whether the "science" matches their preferences.

ombhurbhuva said...

Gilman wrote:

How about idiots? They are no good to themselves or to anyone

else, and they are, on the contrary, an injury . . . . We talk of “the

sanctity of human life[,]” and we are right. Human life is sacred,

far too sacred to be allowed to fall into hideous degeneracy. If we

had proper regard for human life we should take instant measures

to check supply of the feeble-minded and defective persons.148

By the early 1920s, Gilman was routinely advocating for eugenic causes,

particularly for laws against interracial mixing, in major American

magazines. (end quote from EUGENIC FEMINISM: MENTAL HYGIENE, THE

Gilman was not to know where this would lead in the Nazi dispensation. Perhaps the greater rate of abortion amongst African American is an indication of a continued agenda in the U.S. Some people in that community feel that this is the case