Charlotte Perkins Gilman
our fingers stained
with ink and yellow dye
our psyches scarred
our life hopeless
we hid in closets
to protect what was left
of our sanity
wrote your way past
locked rooms and endless hours
but not before you ripped out
nails bloody, tearing down
the yellow wall paper
to save yourself
I sat on the bed
watching as you
freed yourself inch by inch
I look at the woman you became
feminist, author, activist, journalist
but why you are remembered most is
for our story, our peril, our sanity
glad you saved yourself, dear Charlotte
Oh, but if you could have saved me, too.
As a result of post-partum depression, in 1886, Charlotte Perkins Stetson was sent for a “resting cure,” a period of total inactivity. It’s proponent, Dr. Mitchell, felt women’s depression was caused by too much mental activity, and thus a period of complete “rest” would rebalance the mind. In the case of Gilman, and the narrator of her phenomenal short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the women become much more unstable due to forced isolation and non-stimulation. Gilman, once removed from the rest cure program improves, and writing her horrors helps, but never removes all the scars. Despite this, Gilman (she leaves her husband and child, and eventually remarries) goes on to be an activist, author, and publisher.
Reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the first time in my early 20s, literarily blew me away. Then, I had no idea or intention to teach just such issues faced by women in the 19th century. But I wanted to write. To be so exquisite as Charlotte. To be able to fashion with such skill, a story that takes place through the narrator’s journal/voice as she slowly goes insane in a room with yellow wallpaper.
After my own breakdown, I was drawn to it again. The narrator’s journal, albeit a 19th century one, so carefully describes the descent into madness with familiar detail. No yellow wallpaper, but walls that closed around me. A sense of real or not real; revelations that didn’t always free me. Not then. I no longer teach about women in the nineteenth century, nor study the intersect of society, women, and religion in that time period, but I still want to be an authentic writer, to write my “Yellow Wallpaper.”
Since I helped with the prompt (ssshhhh) and Friday soirees are pretty loose and easy, some poetry, some fact, some lecture. But if you haven’t read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, you must. It might test your sanity, and you will never see a bedroom, especially one with wallpaper, the same way again. Once you know what lurks there and in the human mind.
For Friday Music Prompt #52: Virginia Woolf (Indigo Girls)