Since I am (was) attempting to write 52 bad stories, I also thought it would be good to read 52 good stories. I am reading through The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R. S. Gwynn. If you are looking for an anthology of classic short stories that will make you swoon or want to through the book out the window in turn, this is your anthology. While I am mostly going through the book in order, I should note that I did read some out of order for Black History Month in February and my April Short Story a day posts for the April A to Z Blog Challenge.
This week’s story is The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman wrote this story as a reaction to a physician’s advice regarding a “rest cure” for her nerves. Taking some time off did help her, but his advice to never pick up a pencil, pen, or brush again did not go over well. She did send him this story when published.
The main character and her husband, a physician who “scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be seen or put down in figures,” have taken a summer residence at a colonial mansion. This is for her diagnosis of temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – as diagnosed by a physician of high standing and confirmed by both her husband and her physician brother ( also of high standing.) The remedy is to be in this formerly vacant house, to take a few phosphates, get rest, exercise and air, and to not write. So instead, she obsesses over the ugly yellow wallpaper. Within the wallpaper, there are eyes, patterns, and other hallucinations. The wallpaper takes on a life of its own, dirtying clothing and the smell traveling the manor.
The story is one of depression and how misunderstood it was in Gilman’s day. Obsessed with the wallpaper, the main character starts to believe it moves because women are creeping behind it. She then decides to get a rope and tear down the wallpaper so she can capture the women. She then decides to use the rope to join them.
I can only imagine how Gilman’s physician reacted to receiving this story. Not only did she reject his prescription and keep writing, she had the character, also a writer, keep writing as if to prove that the physician may have been correct to proscribe creative work.
This has been one of the more enjoyable stories I have read, possibly because it is a longer story than most of the entries in the anthology. The novelist/James Michener fan in me has accepted I like to spend quality time with characters.