Here’s my fourth post for the 2015 Classics Challenge! It’s not too late to join me (and 170+ other people) in reading one classic per month.
‘The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.’
Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I discovered it while browsing Penguin’s Little Black Classics. I’ve always been interested in mental illness and discussions about mental illness – including taking two ‘Madness and Society’ courses at university – and so it seemed like a great one to try out. I bought it alongside The Old Nurse’s Story.
WHY I Chose to Read It
I wanted to read an ‘old’ classic in April and because I’ve been quite a slow reader this year compared to normal, I also wanted something short and swift – it was the perfect choice!
WHAT Makes It A Classic
I hadn’t heard of The Yellow Wall-Paper before picking it up, so I wasn’t aware it was a classic. I can see now that it was ahead of its time; it was seen as ‘horrifying’ and ‘chilling’ when it was first published. I think it has become a classic because it tackles something incredibly serious, but it a way that’s powerful, vivid and concise, and still resonates with people today – we continue to discuss the stigmatisation of people with mental illness over 120 years later.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
The Yellow Wall-Paper is a story, like many classics, that becomes more enjoyable the more you think about it. I finished it quickly and I wasn’t sure what to think. Did I enjoy it? Did I get it? But I did a little research on Charlotte Perkins Gilman and why it was written. I discovered that it was based on personal experience and that Charlotte was a feminist writer who, at the time, had a radical view on gender roles. I thought about what the story represented and in doing so, I got so much more out of it. I realised that I was guilty of taking the female narrator at face value, when in fact she’s unreliable. The Yellow Wall-Paper has a different meaning once you already know how it ends and once you read it for the second time, and so it can be looked at as both a Gothic horror story and a feminist stance on women, mental illness and gender inequality. I also enjoyed reading the other two short stories included in this edition: The Rocking-Chair and Old Water.
WILL It Stay A Classic
Many people have told me they had the opportunity to study The Yellow-Wall Paper. It’s been a really popular one on Twitter and Goodreads, with many people telling me what they thought of it when they first read it. As long as academia continues to turn to it as a fascinating snapshot into how both women and mental illness were regarded in the late nineteenth century, it won’t be forgotten.
WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who want to read a classic short story, especially a feminist classic. People who are interested in mental health and the issues surrounding the treatment and stigmatisation of people with mental illness. People who want to try out one of the Little Black Classics!