Thursday, 3 January 2013

Four Stories by American Woman- A Penguin Classics book

As I want to get my posts up and running again after being rather slack through the Christmas season I think this book will give me the kick start I need. There are four stories, all that look interesting and I will post them up one at a time over the next week to complete the book.  The book itself will count towards the Classics Club Challenge though I will have to take one book title off my original list and put this one on it.
I think I will probably do quite a bit of this as over the holidays I have made a commitment to myself to spend the next year reading the books I own and some of the classics on my list I will need to get from external sources. So they are going to be exchanged for those books I already have in my enormous TBR pile.

I should also be able to complete the Century of Books Challenge in 2013 (fingers crossed) from the myriad of Penguin books I own as well as my many non Penguins I am really wanting to read. I have many books I want to read and then release into the wild.  I will let people know if they will be giveaways and can happily send them on. Some I will probably sell on eBay.  None of them will be vintage Penguins in the book release program.

So to start off Four Stories by American Women the first one is:

1. The Yellow Wallpaper
I have heard of many American short story writers but I confess I had no idea who  Charlotte Perkins Gilman was.  Ms. Gilman was most known for this short story of all of her published writing. The story is auto biographical in nature.  Charlotte had a most unusual life and although I could put the pieces together about her life it is much easier for myself and readers to quickly visit the very interesting highly informative Wikpedia link (here).

When Ms. Gilman (born 1860)  had her first child (1885) she became very depressed with a depression that lasted for several years.  The doctors treating her at the time believed the best thing to do for depression was to rest as much as possible and do not excite the mind in any way.  She was either actively discouraged from writing, learning or socialising or her claims were out-rightly dismissed as simply being invalid. However she did continue writing.

source: Wikpedia
The result is this story The Yellow Wallpaper.  It is a story of a young woman suffering an anxiety-depressive disorder, if not psychotic after the birth of her child and her husband takes her to a country house insisting she spend three months in the upstairs nursery high above the rest of the household activities.
She is instructed to absolutely not write anything, she is not able to care for her child and she isn't allowed to discuss anything related to her feelings or moods. There is a great deal of patting her arm and tut-tutting. Her husband in this story is a doctor, "Trust me I am a physician" are the words she hears the most. Nothing she can say to him is ever taken seriously or even listened to.

The time frame is the late 1800's when women were often described as hysterical or neurotic. As she suffers out her days in the upstairs nursery, high above the rest of the house, she comes to mentally struggle with the wallpaper which is faded and torn.  She sees a myriad of patterns eventually hallucinating to visions of sets of bars where she sees a woman, especially at night imprisoned within the walls.  As she sleeps during the day making everyone happy, as she "needs her rest," she sleeplessly lies awake at night.  This is the time when the walls come to life, going so far as to finally cause her to believe she is the woman behind the bars and she lives within the wallpaper.

I found this story very engaging yet one can't help feeling a complete sense of frustration for the way men, especially doctors, were revered knowing all that is best for their wives.

The following excerpt gives you an idea of her writing as she describes the wallpaper:

"I lie here on this great immovable bed- it is nailed down, I believe- and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of. It is repeated, of course, by the breadths, but not otherwise. 
Looked at in one way, each breadth stands alone; the boated curves and flourishes - a kind of "debased Romanesque"with delirium tremens - go waddling up and down in isolated columns of fatuity.
but on the other hand, they connect diagonally  and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of wallowing sea-weeds in full chase.
The whole thing goes horizontally, too,, at least it seems so, and I exhaust myself trying to distinguish the order of its going in that direction.
They have used a horizontal breadth for a frieze, and that adds wonderfully to the confusion."

I enjoyed Ms. Gilman's writing very much and would be interested in learning much more about her. Her writing is so expressive I felt as though I was living in this room with her and feeling the same frustration as her relatives hovered around completely trying to patronise her back into the good health they know will happen. 
I won't give the ending away. As this story is approximately 20 pages long I'd happily recommend that people seek it out and have a read.  

It was a very pleasant half hour diversion from the heat we are currently experiencing in our little state here. 


  1. Her name is very familiar to me, and so is this title, but I've never actually read it - just read about it.

    I see the book also includes Sarah Orne Jewett - have you read her before? I had a book of her stories on my TBR stacks for years and when I finally got around to reading the, I fell in love with them!

    1. I am familiar with Sarah O Jewett. We studied her in school though I have not read much of her work. I will read her novella (as it seems to be) in this book next. I have started it and so far it looks quite good.


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