My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“A man’s honor always seems to want to kill a woman to satisfy it. “
Gilman’s prose is of the scary type. Scary for its’ intellect and practical advice for all women. First of all, she is an unapologetic feminist. These well-structured little stories could be divided into three themes which showcase Gilman’s adeptness in her art. The first third of the book displays distinct Gothic elements where houses (what Freud called the ‘Unheimliche’) become objects that reflect female repression. In ‘Yellow-Wallpaper‘, Gilman’s most famous and disturbing story, the house is portrayed as a domestic prison, a warden, and later as a mirror that depicts the awful break-down of the main character. In truth, I was not prepared for the subtle horror of the final scene due to Gilman’s clever use of language. There were also undertones to this story that paralleled partly with Virginia Woolf‘s own tragic death. Gilman’s inspiration came from personal experience after being admitted to a mental institution whereupon the regime was so bad that it almost made her lose her mind. In her preface, she states in particular how the story was written to all doctors who think total rest and complete detachment from any activity are sure cures for a curious, flexible mind.
“I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once.
But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time.
And though I always see her, she may be able to creep faster than I can turn!
I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.”
The second set of stories are mostly humorous satire’s based on the style of different well-known authors such as Austen and R.L. Stevenson. While they were well-written these did not particularly interest me so much. The last part of the book however clearly hammered home the political and socio-economic potential of women in the world. The stories prove that Gilman was a woman very much ahead of her time. The stories themselves must have caused a real stir and they are worded in such a way to stamp out any kind of protest from the ‘male chauvinistic pigs’ that she is constantly pounding.
“Woman” in the abstract is young, and, we assume, charming. As they get older they pass off the stage, somehow, into private ownership mostly, or out of it altogether.”
While the stories were entertaining, I did tire of the overly feminist tone, and soon the plots all began to merge together. Allow me to explain: a woman at the dregs of her life (a mere 50 years old) suddenly gets the urge to live for herself for once. Her children are married off, the husband is conveniently dead, so there is nothing stopping her. The children are trying to get at her money (what little is left of it) by getting her to sell off the property and move in with them. The matriarch refuses and instead of explaining what she’ll do with her life, sets about renting off her property, setting up ‘ladies clubs’, starting up a jam-making business, whereupon in a year her income doubles and trebles. In two years she becomes a millionaire and laughs in the face of her children and everyone else who considered her a helpless good for nothing old lady. End of story.
As I said, while this is entertaining, it does get tedious. But all in all a must-read even if just for ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.
- The Bed Rest Cure (drvitelli.typepad.com)
- ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ … for her own good? (hamptonroads.com)
- “It was not intended to drive people crazy” (themillions.com)
- All Souls (2012yearbookblog.wordpress.com)
- Sat (2012yearbookblog.wordpress.com)
- Review: The Yellow Wallpaper at the Project Arts Centre (thedailyshift.com)