Fiction – paperback; Bantam Classics; 272 pages; 1994.
This small tome features Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s most famous story, The Yellow Wallpaper (first published in 1899), along with a selection of fiction (seven short stories and several excerpts from Herland) and non-fiction (excerpts from Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women and The Man-made World: Our Androcentric Culture).
According to the blurb on the back of the book, the author was an “enormously influential American feminist and sociologist”, so it’s no surprise to find that all her writing — fiction and non-fiction alike — concerns itself with the state of women in the early Twentieth Century. Such themes seem surprisingly before their time, but they were written during the height of the movement for Women’s Suffrage — although women in the United States did not get full voting rights until 1920 — when such things must have been at the forefront of female minds.
I have to be honest and say that, for the most part, I found the short stories in this collection entertaining if a little repetitive theme-wise. But I thought Herland, in which three male explorers stumble into a female utopia, was dull and laboured its point too much — thank goodness it was only a handful of excerpts, because I don’t think I could have handled the entire novel.
The non-fiction selections were interesting, if only because they so clearly showed that the author was way ahead of her time. While we might take her theories and suggestions for granted now, back then it must have been quite shocking to have a woman point out that the fate of all women “must come through a single channel and a single choice. Wealth, power, social distinction, fame — not only these, but home and happiness, reputation, ease and pleasure, her bread and butter — all must come to her through a small gold ring”.
Of course, the highlight of the book, is The Yellow Wallpaper, which had been recommend to me by various bloggers ever since I confessed that I had never heard of the story before.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I felt it was surprisingly short, perhaps too short, because I got to the end and thought, is that it?
It’s quite a harrowing and haunting read about one woman’s battle with what apparently seems to be post-natal depression (unheard of at the time). Forced to stay inside for lots of rest (the worst possible thing for depression, I might add!), the narrator’s mind is left to wander and before too long she begins to think that the ugly yellow wallpaper that lines her room has a life of its own… with horrific consequences. Definitely not a story to read alone in the dark of the night!