Wild Unrest: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Making of "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Making of "The Yellow Wall-Paper"
by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz
Oxford University Press, USA
$24.95 List Price
Published without remuneration by New England Magazine in 1892, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an account of a woman who, confined to bed with an unnamed illness, slowly loses her grip on reality. Though the author enjoyed some renown during her lifetime, she was mostly forgotten until feminists "rediscovered" the story and reissued it in 1973. Since then, it has occasioned nearly eight hundred publications and scholarly projects—no doubt because the woman's madness, and her discovery of a woman trapped in the wallpaper of her room, can be read as everything from an indictment of male-centric medicine to a brief on the power of the female imagination.
The latest to join this torrent of commentators is biographer Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz. Unlike her forerunners, Horowitz has at her command what she terms "a historian's dream"—Gilman's journals and correspondence, as well as the diary of her first husband, Charles Walter Stetson, and the papers of the famed doctor S. Weir Mitchell, whose popular rest cure Gilman underwent during the first years of her marriage after the birth of her only child. Horowitz sets up Gilman's history in order to analyze the writer's fiction through the lens of biography.
At times Wild Unrest gets mired in an academic game of he-said, she-wrote, but overall it's a fascinating account of one woman's attempt to navigate the tightly circumscribed social world of the 1800s. Gilman's marriage was preceded by a passionate female friendship that fell apart when the other girl married. (The was-it-sexual question is somewhat