Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

booksA woman put on bed rest for anxiety loses her mind.

(from The Yellow Wall-Paper)

It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw–not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.

But there is something else about that paper–the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here.

It creeps all over the house.

Originally published in 1892, this story has been anthologized a lot. I hadn’t read it until yesterday, though (or if I read it before I don’t recall). It feels very modern and is written in a style that’s accessible to modern readers. It’s really compelling, and gets stranger and stranger as the narrator becomes unhinged.

You can read it here. You can watch the movie version here. I listened to it on iTunes at Bedtime Stories: Classic Tales for Sleepy Grownups (January 9, 2013), which I highly recommend–I really like the woman’s voice. She also reads an essay by Gilman, which discusses why the story was written. Apparently, the most common treatment for depression and anxiety used to be complete bed rest, which drove people completely mad.


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