Delighted to see in The Guardian today an extract from Maggie O’Farrell’s introduction to the new Vintage Classics edition of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I cannot put into words how much I adore The Yellow Wallpaper. I demand you all go and read this article, and then the story itself.
Motherhood did not sit easily with Gilman. Her autobiography reveals that she felt no happiness holding her baby, only pain. In 1887, after what Gilman herself describes as “a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia and beyond”, she consulted the expert Dr Silas Weir Mitchell. He diagnosed nervous exhaustion or neurasthenia (a catch-all diagnosis popular at the time) and prescribed the rest cure. This was a controversial treatment that Weir Mitchell pioneered and favoured above all others. Its tenets were complete bed rest, total isolation from family and friends, and overfeeding on a diet rich in dairy produce to increase fat on the body. The patient was forbidden to leave her bed, read, write, sew, talk or feed herself.