‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Much has been written about The Yellow Wallpaper since its first publication in 1892. It was unprecedented, and made it possible—and indeed is still making it possible—for women to talk and write about the treatment, shame and stigma of what was then called hysteria. I don’t know what my reaction would’ve been had I read it as a very young woman, but when I first read it as a mother of young children, I recognised immediately the peculiarly listless anxiety and increasing detachment of the post-partum woman. It’s a brilliant, terrifying, devastating read.

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, (which seems to be linked in my mind to the later, and equally terrifying, The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski) taught me that writing can be a fluid state. I took from it the idea that within my own writing, feelings and objects could be interchangeable, replaceable and transferable, and that my perception of a room, for example, or the contents of that room, could be instantly transposed elsewhere; to a different time, a different place, a different state of mind. Nothing is what it appears and everything could mean something else. Most things I’ve written since have included this fluidity in some way or another.

First published in The New England Magazine in 1892. You can read the version published by Small & Maynard in 1899 in the CUNY archives here.

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