Friday, 7 August 2009

The yellow wallpaper (Perkins Gilman) VMC 50

I was a little bit disappointed when The yellow wallpaper turned up from as I'd bought it new as it sounded interesting, but I'd paid £4.49 for something that was only 64p. long! That has to be a pretty bad page/price ratio... In fact I don't recall seeing many books that are this slim on the shelves of bookshops. However, ultimately I am glad that it was published as a book rather than being hidden in a short story, particularly as I don't tend to read short stories.

This is the account of a woman, who the modern reader would recognise as suffering from post-natal depression. However, her physician husband refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with her - staying in a house in the country while their house is being renovated should be a sufficient cure. In many ways he reflects the attitudes to mental illness of the time when the book was written - 1892.

But why is the book called The yellow wallpaper? The house in which they are living is described as being somewhat creepy. In particular, the bedroom which is papered in a hideous yellow paper. The woman begins to fixate on the paper, and hallucinate around it as she has no other outlet for her feelings or creativity. Eventually she believes that there is another woman in the paper - she has projected her illness into the paper. The reader becomes uncertain as to what is real - the creepiness described seems plausible - and what is in her mind.

In some ways I read the book as a real polemic against the treatment of women and the mentally ill in the period, but I am sure that lots more can be read into it.

It's difficult to describe just how well-written this little book is. Here are a few passages which I especially liked:

"It is the strangest yellow, that wallpaper. It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw - not beautiful ones like buttercups but old, foul, bad yellow creeps all over the house"

"John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer and that satisfies him"

"I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night for it is so interesting to watch developments, but I sleep a good deal in the daytime. In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing. There are always new shoots on the fungus and new shades of yellow over it"

According to Amazon: "Charlotte Anna Perkins (1860-1935) married at the age of twenty-four, but three years later separated from her husband. She was a writer of non-fiction and poetry, an editor, feminist theorist, and most of her work is about the status and oppression of women."

I've only seen the cover of the edition which I own, but surely there must be a green cover as it is a very early VMC. Anyone got one?? This edition includes an afterword which is half as long as the book itself!! But I promise you the book is worth every penny.


  1. I am glad that you loved The Yellow Wallpaper too, Verity; I think it is a wonderful work.

    The original VMC cover can be viewed here:

  2. I borrowed this book from a friend but fell pregnant straight after and could barely make it past the first few pages, it felt too close to home. Now that post-natal period is over two years behind me, I might give it another try.

  3. Thanks Claire.

    Absolutely Swati, I can imagine that it would make disturbing reading in the wrong circumstances. But definitely worth revisiting once you're safely away from that period I think.