Saturday, September 20, 2008

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Source: LibriVox | MP3
Length: 32 minutes
Reader: Michelle Sullivan

The story: The narrator and her husband move to a neglected old estate in the countryside to allow the lady time to recover from her "nervous condition." Confined to her room and forbidden from all activity by her husband, she spends her days following the pattern of the horrible yellow wallpaper of her room. As she whiles away the hours between surreptitiously writing in her journal, she begins to notice something: there is a woman living in the wallpaper!

This story makes a great companion piece to The Turn of the Screw. Both were published around the same time, both are ghost stories set in a country estate and both feature women going slowly insane. The upper-class madwoman seems to have been a staple in Victorian literature. I've encountered her as far back as Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, but a can't recall her appearance in 20th century literature. Perhaps the coming of Freud's theories forced writers to construct a different type of the mentally disordered. This story turns the archetype on its head by suggesting it is not the woman being "the weaker sex" that causes insanity, but condescending treatment of women as weaker that leads to the Victorian madwoman.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: I don't know anything about Ms. Sullivan, but she certainly sounds as if she is a theater-trained actor. Her American voice brings out the character of the narrator as an intelligent, curious woman shackled by her husband's misplaced care. My only complaint is that Ms. Sullivan tends to make her "s" sounds too breathy. The recording has a slight hiss, but not so bad that it interferes with understanding the words.

(photo circa 1890 from Cornell University via flickr. No copyright restrictions)

1 comment:

Pearl said...

I will read "The Yellow Wallpaper" next days