The Yellow Wallpaper

I never saw a worse paper in my life.

One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions.

The color is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.

It is a dull yet lurid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others.

No wonder the children hated it! I should hate it myself if I had to live in this room long.

I had noticed “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman some years before on Gutenberg but then saw that it was considered “feminist” literature and gave it a pass. But Lovecraft praised it so it’s time to give it a look.

“Feminist”, for all the stuff on Wikipedia about the story smashing the patriarchy/gobbledegook, is somewhat misleading. This is nascent feminism. Before feminism had metastasized into the rot it is today or even the rot it was in the mid-20th century.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” was published in 1892. It tells, in first person, a woman’s descent into madness. She has been diagnosed with “temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency.” Her husband, a doctor, has prescribed that she have a complete rest and is not supposed to anything, even writing. They rent a house for the summer and use as their room an old nursery.

This nursery is not in very good repair and the yellow wallpaper is peeling off. The narrator is immediately fixated by the wallpaper and its strange design. She begins to see things in it and then things outside of it, claiming there is a woman “creeping” around both outdoors and behind the wallpaper.

Gilman had a similar diagnosis and was told to sit around doing nothing, which she did until she felt that she was about to have a mental breakdown. She went back to work and recovered. The feminist slant is that back then women were treated poorly because of stupid treatments like this, blah blah blah.

(It’s not like the medical profession is still coming up with stupid, BS diagnoses when they don’t know what to do about something. Oh, no. That would never happen. Let’s face it. The medical profession has always had a tendency to latch onto wrongheaded treatments while acting like they know better than anyone else. [Leeches, ‘nuff said.] This is a “women’s” issue only insofar as this particular idiotic treatment affected women.  I’d love to see some information about stupid things doctors were telling men to do back then.)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” has enough details in it, however, to make a reader wonder if the simple explanation of “she didn’t have enough mental stimulation so went nuts” is all there is to it. The husband, while incorrect in his treatment of his wife, seems nice enough so one has to question his sanity in insisting on using a room which is described as having the paper ripped half off and:

Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.

The descriptions leave one with a strong impression that there is something wrong with the room. Maybe it’s simply an increasingly mad woman’s notions. She insists that there’s something strange about the house from the beginning. Maybe there’s something more to it.

The one thing I do not like about the story is the paragraphs. Practically every sentence is its own paragraph. The result is very choppy. It might be different if the style had changed as the character goes insane but it doesn’t. But that’s a very minor detail and I doubt other people will be bothered by it.

Feminist or not it’s a pretty good story.

On Gutenberg


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