Months ago I downloaded "The Yellow Wallpaper" on my Kindle at the suggestion of Nymeth @ Things Mean Alot. It sounded creepy and gothic, and is often mentioned in the same breath as "Affinity" by Sarah Waters. What more do I need to hear? (Honestly, I have considered having a reading challenge one of these years, where I read everything Nymeth reads. She has amazing, eclectic taste and I trust her implicitly!) So I was stuck somewhere recently without a book, and decided that was a perfect time to pull up this short story on my phone.
Synopsis: First published in 1892 in The New England Magazine, we meet a young woman via her first-person journal. She has been diagnosed by her doctor husband as having a "temporary nervous depression - a slight hysterical tendency", and has been confined to a room at a country rental estate over the summer to rest. Her husband believes that any use of creativity aggravates her condition, so she must sneak to write in her journal.
What begins with a mild annoyance with the ugly yellow wallpaper in her room turns into a descent into total madness. She imagines she sees a woman creeping around behind the pattern of the wallpaper trying to escape, and soon enough, the woman is not only in the wallpaper, but outside in the bushes. She begins to tear at the wallpaper, trying to break the woman free.
While the story is very short, it effectively addresses some serious issues, such as the treatment of women in the late 1800's - their oppression, the minimizing and mistreatment of their emotional issues, and their inability to help themselves. The journal entries also deftly record, first-hand, the deterioration of the mind.
My thoughts: Ah, the delicious fun of an unreliable narrator! And this one has such a personality. The protagonist is an innocent, and is compelled to trust her husband's judgement. Still, she is curious, and has a mind of her own underneath all that smoke her husband is blowing up her butt. I found myself being both tickled at her moxie, and frustrated at her lack of proper medical care for a condition I suspect was a form of post-partum depression. As the story progressed, my smirk over the protagonist's antics slowly morphed into a realization that deep down inside, our narrator was desperately sad, and a sick feeling that things were not going to end happily for this woman.
Adding another layer to this story is the history of the author. Apparently, she was inspired to write this story after her personal experience with mental illness. She was assigned a rest cure for her issues, but ultimately rebelled against the diagnosis and her own confinement. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, you rock girl.
For a thoroughly entertaining, but ultimately disturbing and unsettling hour or two of reading, you should definitely give this one your consideration. I doubt it will be one you will soon forget.
4.5 out of 5 stars