‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

My first thought is anyone who’s ever read this story would surely put it in their personal anthology. I know things are subjective, but I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t.

There was a room in my grandparents’ bungalow that I’d sleep in, there was rose patterned wallpaper, white and pink and green and ugly. There were faces in it, and the room was cold, like a pantry. I’d lie in the dark, touching the tassels of the bedside lamp, trying not to look at all the faces in the petals, missing my mum, thinking of the faces staring at me. When I read this story, I remembered all this, and more.

I remember the first time I read it, too, holding my breath and not really being aware of my physicality from beginning to end, and yet being totally aware of it too – the claustrophobic way there were not enough pages and not enough words and yet exactly the right amount of everything. This story is words as secrets, as saviour, as desperation, as confession. I was seventeen when I first read it and I wanted to talk about it all the time. it is perfection, and I go back to it again and again.

It has everything. Powerlessness, condescension to the point of imprisonment, gaslighting, disapproval, and the bright-faced utter rebellion of it. The tone, so light, so bright, at first, then the hurtling towards despair and ESCAPE, in its own way, in the only way possible. So much said, in so few words.

There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.
 It’s terrifying, and brilliant, and everyone should read it.
First published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. My current version is the Vintage Classics, 2015

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