I’m obsessed with Penguin’s Little Black Classic’s range. Some of the most influential works of literature, for 80p? An absolute steal. My latest addition to my growing collection is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. This book has interested me for a while now, and it has been on my reading list for an age; it is known as an integral early work of American feminist literature, showcasing attitudes in the 19th century toward women’s physical and mental health. And at a short 55 pages, it is easily readable in one sitting.
This particular edition is divided up into 3 short stories. Whilst the other two maintain the chilling atmosphere, it is The Yellow Wallpaper that sits far above the rest. Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides an incredible, semi-autobiographical tale of a woman slipping into the depths of madness. A nameless woman and her physician husband move into an old mansion as a form of treatment for her ‘hysterical tendencies’, and she soon descends into psychosis. The character becomes obsessed with the colouring and pattern of the wallpaper, and soon imagines that there are women creeping around behind it, believing that she is one of them. Over a few months we see in distressing detail how her failure to match her identity with the role of submissive wife that American society desired creates a descent from acuity to anguish.
In terms of feminism, the tale provides a clear damnation of the androcentric domination within medicine at the time. Gilman’s attitudes are reflected in the character, as she craves to get out of the domestic sphere that is actually contributing to her insanity, not reducing it. This is a piece of work that is still incredibly relevant if we are to break down the walls that limit women all around the world, and we can only thank Charlotte Perkins Gilman for sowing that seed in the minds of many.
Overall, the tale makes for an absolutely chilling read, and for 80p, you’re immersed in horror with valuable lessons attached. I would encourage anyone to buy the book, and certainly explore the rest of Penguins range. Little Black Classics, you have done it again.
Words by James Dudley