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Charlotte Perkins Gilman was famous as a 19th century feminist author, and apparently she's taught in a lot of feminist/women's studies courses. I was vaguely interested in her most famous story, The Yellow Wallpaper, so when this collection was an Audible deal of the day, I went ahead and downloaded.
I'm glad I did. I'll get to the title story in a minute, but I found the other short stories - which were all about a woman being presented with a choice (usually in the form of a man). Clearly there is a feminist undertone to each story, though bear in the mind this is 19th century "First Wave" feminism, so it remains largely a given that even a spirited, talented, independent-minded woman is still going to marry eventually. But Gilman was first and foremost writing short stories meant to have a beginning, middle, and end, and does not beat her readers over the head with any "message." In that respect, these stories were quite enjoyable, some of them having an O. Henry twist. I particularly , in which a moralistic, wealthy old spinster aunt promises her two nephews $50 (a small fortune, especially to children) if they forego butter for an entire year, believing butter is bad for children and too "rich." They do, and when the year is up, the old hag gives them their $50 in the form of membership pledges in a missionary society. The reader seethes with anger along with the boys at the injustice of it, but Gilman delivers a satisfying coda to the story.
Some of the stories are really just simple romances, though with a slightly feminist spin, but all of them showed that Gilman was a master of characterization and not bad as a prose stylist either.
Now, The Yellow Wallpaper is famous because it represents an early feminist look at the treatment of women and mental health. The main character is a wife suffering in the aftermath of some sort of nervous breakdown and made to stay in an upstairs room decorated with a hideous yellow wallpaper that she abhors. She wants to leave, she wants to do something, she craves mental stimulation, but her kind but egostistical and patronizing physician husband refuses to let her go anywhere or lift a finger. And so he accomplishes exactly the opposite of his intent as she slowly goes mad.
This has obvious significance as an indictment of how women with mental health issues were treated, how their concerns were not taken seriously, and how they could be reduced to powerless chattel even by the kindest and most well-meaning husband. However, as a horror fan, I submit that this story can be read completely differently...
... as a tale of Lovecraftian horror! A trapped woman slowly discovers the secret of the things that live in the in-between spaces accessible from our reality through unearthly patterns in a hideous yellow wallpaper. In the climax, her husband discovers her after she has gone insane from exposure to secrets man was not meant to know.
Seriously, read it that way and it totally works.
Anyway, I really liked these stories, even the ones that were very short and had not much in the way of conclusion.
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I'm a huge fan of horror and psychological thrillers, an ally to feminists and an appreciator of classic literature, and The Yellow Wallpaper absolutely satisfied all those sensibilities. It is an absolutely thrilling narrative; it's strange, it's funny, it's sad, then it's chilling. The two or three other stories I listened to in this collection were less well crafted and blatantly proselytizing; still enjoyable listens, for what they are, but they've got the tone of Chick gospel tracts (even if their message isn't quite so deplorable).
9 of 11 people found this review helpful