Reading Group #10 ('The Yellow Wallpaper')

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Reading Group #10 ('The Yellow Wallpaper')

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jul. 6, 2011, 2:02am

Here we are!

jul. 6, 2011, 4:22am

Ooh, I might join in this one as it's already on my to read pile and I've just finished another few WEEKS FROM HELL. Reading time :-D

jul. 6, 2011, 4:48am

God, I feel you. What a monnnnth!!! Reading time, indeed! :D

jul. 6, 2011, 5:09am

Started the topic at 2am and replied at nearly 5am, do you sleep at all woman? I don't believe you students can have busy months, you just think you do :-P

Editat: jul. 6, 2011, 5:57am

This is an excellent one!

I first read this because of H P Lovecraft's words about it in his Supernatural Horror in Literature essay. Like a lot of stories from this time I feel the ending is a bit of a let down but I love the build up and the story is great over all. Very quick read too, obviously.

Should do some Sarah Orne Jewett sometime. For some reason this story always reminds me of her.

jul. 6, 2011, 6:53am

>4 LipstickAndAviators:

Hey! We can have busy months! Haha. As for sleep: though the timing on here is Eastern, I'm Pacfic. So more like I started the thread around 11 AM, and am now typing this at 3:49 AM. So actually, I suppose the answer, apparently I don't sleep! :D

>5 Thulean:

I kind of like the ending but I do think it lacks a certain power that might not have been too hard to bring to the table. Never heard of Jewett. What's she like?

jul. 6, 2011, 6:54am

Oh and Liam, I just noticed you've picked up the Folio Melmoth the Wanderer! What do you think of the illustrations??

jul. 6, 2011, 6:59am

#5 - I feel the ending is a bit of a let down ...

Interesting. It depends on one's personal expectations, of course. I found the ending quite satisfying - I had a certain amount of schadenfreude on what happened to John (whom I'd wanted to kick - very hard) and I also liked the subtly blackly-humorous, 'told you I was ill' element of it.

Editat: jul. 7, 2011, 4:35am

Lit. studies people talk about 'unpacking' a text: this is absolutely 'packed' - there is so much in there - I'm trying hard to not use a metaphor about peeling layers of wallpaper ...

I think it kicks my woffling about that line, in the last thread, into touch - this is way beyond that. If anyone wanted to be snobby about our kind of stories as not being 'proper literature' and all that, I think they'd come a cropper with this one - definitely in the 'literature' category.

In fact, I might, possibly, have formally studied this at some point - it's ringing all sorts of bells - but I can't comfortably look through my old stuff at the moment because of a complex concatenation of misplaced reading glasses, ill-directed feet, long-overdue eye-tests and the fact of most spectacle-frames not being tailored to noses that have had rough lives; so I'm a bit wary of posting what I think are my opinions and then finding they've come from some text-book. So I'll say nothing more specific till my opticians get their act together.

ETA tenuously relevant link -

jul. 8, 2011, 3:21pm

The first thing one thinks of is Wilde's (apocryphal?) last words: "Either this wallpaper goes or I do."

jul. 8, 2011, 6:41pm

Oh, Lola, this is why I love you... :D

jul. 9, 2011, 1:03pm

>10 LolaWalser: that's a good one!

This story was really good and so layered. Not sure what to make of the main character exactly, but fascinating, creepy, and sad all at the same time.

A very odd thought I had while reading this is that it reminded me of Dean Koontz's prose of all things. I think that is because the paragraphs are very, very short, with a clear prose style, that offered lots of depth beneath the surface. I always though the very short paragraph was mostly a staple of the modern thrillerish bestseller-type, but I was pleasantly surprised to find this technique used quite effectively in story from another century.

Editat: jul. 9, 2011, 1:04pm

Aquest missatge ha estat suprimit pel seu autor.

jul. 9, 2011, 1:05pm

>5 Thulean: I'll have to go back and read what Lovecraft had to say. I'd be interested in his take.

Editat: jul. 9, 2011, 1:35pm

Has everyone read this who's going to? I've a couple of questions I'd like to hear others' opinions on, but I'm thinking of spoilers, of course. Though, having said that (about questions, I mean), CPG does rather seem to be offering the reader multiple choices, doesn't she?

jul. 9, 2011, 1:59pm




I read it some time ago, from what I remember: woman goes mad in a Victorian cage. Malaise in marriage and suffocating society, transferred onto the quite literal walls of her room. We seem to be hitting frequently on horror as externalisation of psychological problems.

Speaking of which, what in the world was wrong with Elizabeth Barrett before Robert Browning appeared in her life? A lifelong invalid up and elopes from her fainting couch like a gazelle.

To touchstone the book: The yellow wallpaper

jul. 9, 2011, 2:09pm

Oh ye gods I've got a stitch! I don't know why, but the idea of Elizabeth Barrett Browning making like a gazelle had me falling over laughing.

jul. 9, 2011, 2:37pm

#16 - Okay, back to the choices I mentioned. Your summing-up of the story is exactly how I read it, except ...

You could also read it that the bars on the window and rings in the wall mean that the place is actually a former lunatic asylum - or at least the room was one used for caging a lunatic (hence all the previous damage the narrator tells us about), that it is haunted by the ghost of a/the former inmate - the woman she sees - who eventually manages to invade and take over her personality à la 'The Listener'.

Um ... I got to the bit where I wrote about the previous damage and I got completely derailed by the thought of possible subtexts to the teethmarks in the bedstead. Lola's fault, her irreverent sense of humour is catching!

jul. 9, 2011, 8:09pm

>16 LolaWalser:


Rank, I've read it, so hit me with your questions.

jul. 11, 2011, 5:39am

I read it this morning on the train, so please discuss.

However, I may have to read it again before I can give much comment as being stuck in an overcrowded London train carriage in the baking summer heat made me feel almost as crazy as our dear narrator.

I agree somewhat with comemnts about the ending, not exactly that it was a bad ending but it felt a little sudden/rushed and almost out of pace with the rest of the story.

jul. 11, 2011, 8:28am

One question that's been puzzling me is how much we are supposed to take the narrator's word for things and how much she actually knows about the whys and wherefores of the way she's being treated.

First of all you think it's about a woman suffering from postnatal depression (and there's another question, right there, about how much it was recognised and known about in CPG's time).

Then the frequent harping upon the wallpaper catches your attention and you start to think, "Um ..."

And then, out of the blue, and writing - well, I forget the correct tense, but something that happened back a bit - she calmly writes that she'd considered burning the place down but decided against it. You start to think, "Hang on - this woman was perhaps unbalanced and even dangerous to start with".

jul. 11, 2011, 8:41am

I think she's very much the definition of the unreliable narrator?

It's a bit unclear to me of whether she's being mistreated intentionally or whether the guy (was his name John?) is just inept. She does go ona bout how loving and great he is a lot, but then I don't trust a word of what she says.

I don't really understand how he could not notice how far gone she was until that last scene?

jul. 11, 2011, 9:25am

Yes - this is the thing with it. It throws up so many questions and I'm not at all sure how much of them CPG intended. I must have read it a dozen times in the last few days and I'm still finding it puzzling and fascinating.

For instance, John's diagnosis - "temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency": are we to take this as his real opinion; or is that just for her consumption, he really suspecting something more serious - which gives another interpretation to his getting her out of society and into an isolated house in the country; or does CPG intend me to be in two minds about it.

And the window-bars, rings on the walls, fastened-down bed, damage to the room: are these meant to suggest an ex-lunatic asylum, or to foreshadow one, or both, or does CPG intend me to be left uncertain about it?

Editat: jul. 11, 2011, 9:42am

Well I definitely took from it that it wasn't a nursery at all. I think her thinking it was a nursery and that the rings etc were for children (even that children had ripped the paper) was just due to the fact that her madness/depression was caused by (or at least affected by) her recent childbirth. I'm fairly sure the room was meant to confine her and that John did think she was ill, I just don't understand how if he already knew she was ill he is surprised enough to faint in the last scene.

Since they only rented the place for 3 months, I assume this house was frequently used for this treatment and that they moved to this house just for the purpose of isolating the narrator in this room. It was a real treatment that Gilmore herself received once and that this story actually helped to disprove and end.

jul. 11, 2011, 1:18pm

I don't really understand how he could not notice how far gone she was

I could be miles off-target, but thinking of the way women were regarded at the time, maybe it's not that strange: after all, women were considered (and treated) as naturally weak, feeble-minded, prone to hysteria and scary incomprehensible mood swings etc. A woman falling mentally apart could indeed be far gone before she reached the "clinical" threshold. There's some irony there.

Do any of you have the edition with other Gilman's stories? Together they give quite a picture of what Gilman thought of women's status. My fave is the one where the wife kicks the adulterous husband out of the house and keeps with her the maid he's made pregnant. Grrl-power in a genteel 19th century setting.

jul. 11, 2011, 4:17pm

I think my edition has about 4 more of her stories but I only read this one for now. I'm not sure I should read them as I'm trying not to end up a feminist :-P

I appreciate that women were't really listened to and were thought of as a little mad already, but going from 'oh how silly, you don't like the wallpaper' to chewing the bed and destroying the walls is something I would hope any husband/physician might notice. Also the sister has no excuse (although I guess she did pick up on the clothing stains).

Other than a way to describe her madness, is there anything in the pattern on the wallpaper? Is it a metaphor for her thoughts and emotions or something? I mean the way she tries to follow it but it had no logical pattern or end etc, but tends to often repeat.

jul. 11, 2011, 4:50pm

I'd certainly say, LA, that the wallpaper has metaphorical context. If you've ever spent a few moments lost in the pattern of a Persian rug or some stucco or tiles (am I the only one who's ever done this--eek!), you can begin to grasp how locked up, isolated, with something that curious might begin to prey on latent, er, 'issues.'

I don't think CPG intended us to wonder about her narrator's sanity until the woman was too far gone to do anything about it. I think the great irony of the story is that by treating the woman like she's insane the people around her drive her insane. Obviously our narrator has issues; that's clear from her first few journal entries. But are these issues overwhelming enough that without her confinement she would have begun to unravel? I don't think so. And so, at the end of the day, one can't totally take the feminist statement out of the story; it may be Gothic, and it may deal with an unreliable narrator, but none of these things rob it of its most terrifying aspects, which are far more 'political' (or whatever) than they are atmospheric. It's a great story.

Lola, I've never read anything else by CPG, but the story you mentioned sounds fabulous. What's it called??

Editat: jul. 11, 2011, 4:57pm


Argh, can't remember title. I'll dig it out, it was a... Bantam, The yellow wallpaper and other writings.

Meanwhile, how cool is this cover!

jul. 11, 2011, 5:01pm

Haha, from the Wiki entry about TYW:

"The Yellow Wallpaper was essentially a response to the doctor who had tried to cure her of her depression through a "rest cure", Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, and she sent him a copy of the story."

jul. 11, 2011, 6:30pm

>30 LipstickAndAviators:

He actually renounced the 'cure' slightly after too and decided it wasn't actually beneficial after all...

Whether you like the story or not I guess you can't argue it had influence.

Mr. Weir still went on to be very respected and well known in psychology though. Such is life.

As for her other stories, my copy includes: Turned, When I Was a Witch, Making a Change, If I was a Man.

After a brief scan I think the story Lola mentioned might be 'Turned'.

jul. 11, 2011, 8:13pm

I've been trying to make sense of the names - she mentions a Mary and Jennie and Jane. Jennie is obviously the sister-in-law and I suppose Mary must be a nursemaid. But is Jane simply a typo for Jennie or is it actually the narrator's name - she using it when she imagines herself the woman from behind the paper and thus separate from her real self?

Editat: jul. 16, 2011, 6:03am

#23 - For instance, John's diagnosis - "temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency": are we to take this as his real opinion; or is that just for her consumption, he really suspecting something more serious - which gives another interpretation to his getting her out of society and into an isolated house in the country; or does CPG intend me to be in two minds about it.

I've given up on this and gone back to the idea that John actually believes what he says to her. That allows me to explain his fainting at the end as being caused by the double blow of the shock of finding his wife actually barking-mad and the shock of finding that his superior, male understanding is seriously awry.

#25- ... after all, women were considered (and treated) as naturally weak, feeble-minded, prone to hysteria and scary incomprehensible mood swings etc. A woman falling mentally apart could indeed be far gone before she reached the "clinical" threshold. There's some irony there.

Yes - there's a sort of double whammy of damage done by frustrating a powerful intellect and having to live in a society where 'everyone knows' that women don't have powerful intellects so the problems must have some other cause - 'natural female frailty'. When you consider how CPG depicts the attitudes of her husband, her brother and her sister-in-law, you have to assume she the narrator felt pretty misunderstood and isolated even before she became unwell.

ETA - On a different note, I still think CPG is offering us a supernatural element - if we want it - perhaps as a sort of surface gloss to the story.

jul. 13, 2011, 5:06pm

It works on the level of a "simple" horror story too--"the furniture is trying to eat me!"

jul. 13, 2011, 6:26pm

'The furniture is trying to eat me!'

God do I hate it when THAT happens...

jul. 13, 2011, 7:41pm

>34 veilofisis: It can even be worse when one has to eat the furniture! ;)

jul. 14, 2011, 4:22am

I generally find it's my furniture that get eaten by my other things. I sometimes wonder where my chair has gone in the piles of clothes and books...

I don't have wallpaper though so i feel quite safe in that regard.

jul. 15, 2011, 1:44am

>35 brother_salvatore:

Don't REMIND me! :D

jul. 16, 2011, 6:01am

#32 - I'd intended to write, "... you have to assume the narrator felt pretty misunderstood and isolated even before she became unwell". Bit late for altering it now, but still ...

jul. 16, 2011, 6:08am

Is anyone still reading this? Are there any comments/questions etc? If not, I'm ready to select another story. :)

jul. 16, 2011, 6:22am

I've come over all metaphoric. It's packed with metaphors, isn't it. And layers of metaphors. For instance (the really big one), the woman behind the wallpaper as a metaphor for the narrator while the narrator is a metaphor for contemporary women (at least the more intellectual, non-sister-in-lawish type).

Editat: jul. 16, 2011, 6:59am

#39 - Wasn't ignoring you - it actually took me twenty minutes or more to write #39 #40! I had a pile of stuff about the metaphors but it was a bit long-winded and boring so I ended up deleting it. You posted while I was doing so.

Before we move on, I'll just say that I think this is one of the more 'meaty' and absorbing stories we've done - lots to chew over. Yet another writer that I HAVE to read more of.

Okay, this is going to sound a bit vague and 'airy-fairy', but I'll give it a go anyway. With stories like this, you get a lot out of them by re-reading and re-reading and really thinking about them, but ... does anyone else get this idea that you lose something that you had on the first reading and you just can't quite recapture it? With this one I just can't quite recapture the supernatural element - it was definitely there on the first reading - the glimpsed, mysterious people seen in the grounds and the woman behind the wallpaper and so forth. I know it's there but I can't feel it anymore.

Edited for innumeracy.

Editat: jul. 18, 2011, 9:30am

I feel you about rereads, Paul: they don't necessaily rob a story of its impact, and a reread is often necessary to grasp the nuance of something, but one can't really argue that the, be cheesy, 'magic,' fades into something more analytical and less spellbound with each additional reading.

So, next up I figured we could do something more modern. I recently read my first Borges story, 'The Gospel According to Mark.' I found it in my Oxford Book of Gothic Tales. It's got to be one of the most fabulously unnerving things I've read this year. I like stories that don't pack their punch until quite literally the last sentence or two, and BOY HOWDY is this one of those...

If this is a bit hard for our 'online readers' to locate we can certainly try another oldie.

(Also, if any of you have never heard of this story, DO NOT LOOK UP ANY INFO ON IT ONLINE! The net is filled with spoilers for some stupid reason! And believe me, this is one of those few truly brilliant things where the less you know going in the better...)

jul. 18, 2011, 9:34am

Oh hey, a quick search yields this free translation online:

A quick glance seems to indicate that this is just a bit less powerful than my (uncredited) translation, but it's totally readable.

jul. 18, 2011, 9:49am

Cool. I like Borges but don't think I've read this one.

jul. 18, 2011, 11:14am

You're in for something special, Liam.

New thread is up. #11. I think we can officially say our reading group has taken off. :)

jul. 19, 2011, 8:21am

#9 - In fact, I might, possibly, have formally studied this at some point ...

No I haven't. I've realised that, for some reason, I've been confusing CPG with Kate Chopin. Both cropped up when I was studying feminist lit. crit. as part of a course, but the Chopin is covered in pencil and highlighter and the Gilman isn't; therefore ...

Editat: oct. 6, 2018, 6:30am

Sorted this one into the mix, and can understand what all the fuss is about, why it stands alone in its downward spiral of 'perfect storm' elements that hurt not helped the heroine. Egad, so pleased great strides have been made to awaken ignorance in both the medical community and in society. Bless her. Loved it much more than anticipated. Watched a few online interpretations, all worthy of repeated applause. This one haunts.

I found this link extremely helpful, with author background and context:
(I've watched several other Crash Course links, each enlightening, and am accustomed to his mannerisms and humour, which might be distracting if you only see this one offering. I often need to replay sections to get the full drift since he speaks so quickly and packs a punch in layered density of insight.)

>8 alaudacorax: The ending took me completely off guard, so the twist to me was his 'comeuppance' and left me smiling. The sister seemed to 'come around' faster than the doctor, but this was due to daily observation, not the kiss 'n toss of a young son a few times a week, if that. I got a sense that house staff thought it was almost funny, that the husband was in complete denial, and that the sister was empathetic but loyal to her blood relatives (mother, sister, brother). It was only after the markings on the dress annoyed her to the point of anger, that she finally realized that the bizarre activity could not (in the least) be helped. It was not a matter of will-power.

In the early stages, I had an image of David Copperfield's Murdstone and his sister, likely because I'd watched it recently online. Curious if this occurred frequently? That the man of the house brought in a relative to be 'housekeeper' and thus it's kept to HIS liking, overriding the wishes of the wife?! Must be a Victorian thing. Also got an impression of Nicole Kidman as Woolf in The Hours, the train station outburst, the seething frustration on both sides. She tries desperately to find the words to convey to her husband what's happening, and he makes her mute. She imploded rather than exploded.

Reading this, then watching a few online versions, led me to take 45min with renowned David Suzuki and The Nature of Things posted just this week! It was entitled 'my brain made me do it' and it was an astute approach to uncontrollable criminal behavior. Not that this protagonist was acting criminally, but her brain and body chemistry was so out of whack that she could not help herself. Tremendous writing to capture that in one short story.

oct. 7, 2018, 5:54am

>47 frahealee: - I found this link extremely helpful ...

Maybe it's because I'm British, but I think John Green should be handcuffed before he's allowed in front of a webcam ... preferably hands behind his back ... very distracting ...

... as was never showing us all of what is written on the cover of his laptop - derailed me several times, that ...

... to be honest, though, he never said anything that was new to me, so perhaps that's why my attention was wandering.

Editat: oct. 13, 2018, 9:20pm

>48 alaudacorax: It's because you're British. Plus you were warned. Next time, take my disclaimer more seriously … (but curiosity sometimes kills the cat anyway). My guess is that his PBS shows are for high school students, and since I had four at one time, he helped us all graduate. His succinct nature helped me keep my kids glued to their tasks without overwhelming them with extensive content and research. No one in my family can speak without using their hands, thanks to our Italian blood. Handcuffs is a bit extreme, but I get your point.

ETA: John Green is a teacher as well as an author of; Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska, Turtles All The Way Down, etc. and the subsequent movies. He writes sensitively about the challenges of both physical and mental illness with youth in mind. His own experience with OCD opens many doors that have been known to close off great numbers of misunderstood individuals. His brother Hank is a scientist so they started these 10min blips in 2011 to help YA sort out basics in literature, history, mythology, theatre, sciences, psychology, etc. I would not expect anyone who has studied for a degree, or a masters, or a PhD to boost their knowledge from these accelerated Coles Notes-type excerpts, but they help cut through the murk quickly to allow enough clarity for essay topic selection and further research into their own corner of interest. Win win.