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This collection brings together 12 of the finest short stories of prominent American feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman. "The Yellow Wallpaper", Gilman's best-known work, was first published in 1892 and represents an important examination of 19th-century attitudes toward women's physical and mental health. Written as a collection of journal entries by a woman whose physician husband has confined her to her bedroom, the story depicts the narrator's descent into psychosis as her confinement gradually erodes her sanity.
This collection also includes the stories "The Giant Wistaria", "According to Solomon", "The Boys and the Butter", "Her Housekeeper", "Martha's Mother", "A Middle-Sized Artist", "An Offender", "When I Was a Witch", "The Cottagette", "Making a Living", and "Mr. Robert Grey Sr."
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.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
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
This collection of twelve short stories by the late 19th and early 20th century feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman contains one amazing story and eleven mildly interesting ones, most of which engage with women's issues, particularly relating to marriage and exploring how women may live independent, healthy, and happy lives in a male-dominated world.
The first story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892), is the best, one of the most potent short stories I've read, a bit like an Edgar Allan Poe tale told from a woman's point of view. It's harrowing. The first person narrator, suffering from minor depression after having given birth to a son, is forced by her probably well-meaning but utterly un-empathic and un-understanding doctor husband to undergo the exact opposite treatment from what would be good for her in the exact opposite place from what would be good for her. "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage," she confides early on, without, perhaps, enough intentional irony. The woman's awareness that she needs activity, stimulation, and creativity, and would benefit from exploring and expressing her feelings through writing, etc., and her husband's demoralizing dismissal of those needs (as if she were a spoiled child), her growing insanity despite her and her husband's claims that she's improving, the unclean, ugly, morbidly fascinating yellow wallpaper that begins dwelling in her as she begins dwelling in it, the interesting difficulty of determining how much of what she tells us happens is real and how much delusion, all make for a gripping story. When you read it in the context of Gilman's own similar experience after she gave birth to her own child, "The Yellow Wallpaper" becomes even more moving and reveals a fearless honesty.
"The Giant Wisteria" (1891) is a ghost story set in a similar large old rented American house as that in "The Yellow Wallpaper." Here the house is haunted a female victim of patriarchal oppression from an earlier era.
"According to Solomon" (1909) marks a change in tone to light comedy as a wife demonstrates her independent thinking to her patriarchal, Bible-proverb quoting husband by secretly earning her own money to buy Christmas presents.
In "The Boys and the Butter" (1910) Gilman demonstrates her thorough understanding of children's minds, as she tells a funny, outraged story in which a pious Christian aunt from hell challenges her two young nephews to give up butter for a year in return for a prize of fifty dollars each.
The most common situation in this collection concerns a woman's difficult decision as to whether or not to marry, as when in "Her Housekeeper" an actress widow with a young son has her many reasons for not remarrying resolved by an unusual suitor.
"Martha's Mother" highlights both the need for young working women to live in comfortable and affordable places and for middle-aged women to continue working.
In "A Middle-Sized Artist" Rosamund would rather go to Paris to study art to achieve her dream to become an illustrator than marry a passionate suitor who'd want her to give up her dream. And then they meet three years later. . .
In "An Offender" a divorcee with a young son is being courted by the man she divorced seven years ago, because he assures her that he will be a better husband now, though he still seems to prefer making a profit with his streetcars than making the streets of NYC safe for children.
"When I Was a Witch" is an allegorical black comedy recounting how the first-person narrator suddenly gained the power to use her anger to curse anything and anyone who gets her goat, from men who beat horses and people who keep parrots to "mendacious and salacious" newspapers and corporation kings.
In the climax of "The Cottagette" (1910), the first person narrator asks rhetorically, "was there ever a man like this?" when a man tells her that he'll only marry her on the condition that she not cook for him and instead continue her artistic work.
"Making a Living" features a rare male protagonist, Arnold Blake, a scorned eldest son who tries to use his poetic sensibilities to turn chestnuts into an environmentally friendly way to support himself and a potential wife.
In the last story, "Mr. Robert Grey Sr.," the first-person narrator tries to hold out against pressure from her parents to marry a grotesque old man while believing that her beloved fiancee has drowned at sea.
The audiobook reader, Kirsten Potter, has a pleasing voice reminiscent of Kate Reading's, and reads all the stories with perfect pacing and emphasizing, without over-dramatically changing her voice for different genders and character types. She reads "The Yellow Wallpaper" with appropriately increasing emotional tension, and the lighter stories with a deft comic touch that enhances Gilman's writing.
After reading Gilman's interesting short novel Herland (1915), in which three American men enter a hidden utopia where women live without men, and then the remarkable "The Yellow Wallpaper," in this collection I expected more stories featuring science fiction or fantasy and more powerful stories with grim endings or intense moods, but the other eleven pieces are mostly realistic, romantic, earnest, and unchallenging, written with clear, professional, unnoticeable prose--apart from a few rich descriptions like this setting of a romantic picnic: "We saw the round sun setting at one end of a world view and the round moon rising at the other, calmly shining, each on each." Finally, "The Yellow Wallpaper" rewards multiple readings and is a must read for anyone, while the collection itself should be of read by people interested in early 20th century feminist fiction and American culture.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
narrator was great, it's a variety of stories so hard to rate overall. liked most of them.
What about Kirsten Potter’s performance did you like?
Perfect, she got me right into the stories.
Any additional comments?
"The Yellow Wallpaper" is truly a gem. "When I was a Witch" was also a standout. Makes me want to read her non-fiction work as well...
I really liked the title story in this collection of short stories. It was a bit chilling for me, however, as it reminded me of my mom and how she hated the wallpaper in her room when she was terminally ill, just like the heroine hated the wallpaper in her room. I enjoyed most of the stories, and I appreciated the fact that they were different. While they all had a feminist message, I did not feel as if they were all "cookie cutter" stories. The narrator was good and I like the audio format. The one criticism I have is that some of the stories seemed to end a bit abruptly.
I had never heard of this author before and was concerned that it would be difficult to read because of the dated language; however, that was not a problem at all. I got this book when Audible offered it as a daily deal, and I'm glad I did; I probably would not have ventured into this author otherwise.
Any additional comments?
A couple of the stories were too "moral of the story" for my liking but I did like her more suspenseful stories. She had an engaging storytelling technique that survived through the century, I found myself thinking that she wasn't all that different in 1892 than women are today.
The first story was almost tolerable were it not for narrator racing through it at too fast a rate. The stories seemed to run into each other and it became confusing. The reading became faster and faster and I finally gave up.
At first I was very pleased with this book. BUT that was while reading the FIRST story in the collection of twelve. "The Wallpaper" was as psychologically horrifying as the film "Psycho" or being INSIDE the Ingrid Bergman character's mind in "Gaslight". The story was well-crafted and creepy! However, NONE of the subsequent 11 stories even came close to it. The second story was confusing and the remaining 10 are just boring. The synopsis promised to deliver a book that "represents an important examination of 19th century attitudes towards women's physical and mental health". Well, the first story came through with flying colors - a tantalizing "appetizer" before an anticipated "meal" prepared by a Michelin star chef. "The Wallpaper" was like quail eggs with Kubbitz Dan caviar as the first course and the rest of the book served canned Spam! Ewwwwww! 😝👎
6 of 12 people found this review helpful
Although an avid reader, I am not a student of literary art and perhaps that is why I feel I didn't find most of these stories very interesting? I understood what was happening, but it just didn't command my attention as a lot of stories do. I feel like any of these short stories could have been written by a high school prose student. To me, there wasn't anything exceptional about the stories themselves. After reading about the author and her personal struggles, I can see where one might find some interest in her work. It is considered a classic and I have now read it, so I will move on. She felt somewhat feministic and the theme of second marriage is repetitive. The narration was good and I listened comfortably at 1.5X speed. I would not spend a credit on this, but I picked up on the deal of the day. I hope this helps. Later.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful