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Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and related writings

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Slides for a lecture for the Arts One program (http://artsone.arts.ubc.ca) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This lecture is about Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" as well as her book Our Androcentric Culture, or The Man-Made World. It also discusses historical and personal context to these writings, including neurasthenia and the "rest cure" proposed by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and related writings

  1. 1. Christina Hendricks Arts One January 2017 Gilman, “The Yellow Wall- Paper,” and related readings
  2. 2. Charlotte Perkins (Stetson) Gilman Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain 1895 c. 1900 Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  3. 3. Gilman’s aunts Harriet Beecher Stowe Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain Isabella Beecher Hooker Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain Catherine Beecher Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  4. 4. Gilman in earlier years 1883, age 24 Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain Charles Walter Stetson Screenshot from ebook, Wild Unrest (Horowitz, 2010) Image removed before posting publicly online due to copyright restrictions
  5. 5. “In Duty Bound” (1881, 1883) In duty bound, a life hemmed in, --Whichever way the spirit turns to look; No chance of breaking out, except by sin, --Not even room to shirk-- --Simply to live, and work. An obligation preimposed, unsought, --Yet binding with the force of natural law; The pressure of antagonistic thought; --Aching within, each hour, --A sense of wasting power. A house with roof so darkly low --The heavy rafters shut the sunlight out; One cannot stand erect without a blow; --Until the soul inside --Cries for a grave--more wide. A consciousness that if this thing endure, --The common joys of life will dull the pain; The high ideals of the grand and pure --Die, as of course they must --Of long disuse and rust. That is the worst. It takes supernal strength --To hold the attitude that brings the pain; And there are few indeed but stoop at length --To something less than best, --To find, in stooping, rest.
  6. 6. Gilman: mental health 1883, age 24 Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain Several episodes of mental & emotional difficulties throughout life Particularly bad after daughter born 1885 Treated by S. Weir Mitchell 1887
  7. 7. S. WEIR MITCHELL & NEURASTHENIA
  8. 8. Neurasthenia George Miller Beard (1839-1883) Screen shot of American Nervousness from archive.org “nerve exhaustion” “deficiency or lack of nerve force” cause: “modern civilization” -- American Nervousness vi Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  9. 9. Neurasthenia: Causes • Steam power • Travelling long distances by train • Periodical press • Clocks, punctuality • Increase in amount of business • “rapid development and acceptance of new ideas” (American Nervousness 113) • “the mental activity of women” (Ibid. vi)
  10. 10. Neurasthenia: Treatments Drugs (including sedatives) Rest (e.g., Mitchell) Electrotherapy Dr. Buckland’s Scotch Oats Essence, Flickr photo shared by Boston Public Library, licensed CC BY 2.0
  11. 11. Electrotherapy Electropathic Belts ad (c. 1890), Wellcome Images, licensed CC BY 4.0 General Faradization (1873), Wellcome Images, licensed CC BY 4.0
  12. 12. Silas Weir Mitchell S. Weir Mitchell examining Civil War Vet, Wellcome Images, licensed CC BY 4.0 S. Weir Mitchell in 1909, Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  13. 13. Silas Weir Mitchell S. Weir Mitchell in 1909, Wikimedia Commons, public domain “Wear and Tear” article (1871) • Wear: exhaustion from normal use • Tear: exhaustion from overuse • More likely from indoor mental work than physical work • Treatment of “tear” for men: “camp cure” • At first, for women: “rest cure” (later also gave “camp cure”)
  14. 14. Mitchell’s rest cure • Seclusion from family • 6-8 weeks rest • Massage, electrotherapy • Feeding • Convalescence Louis Lang, The Invalid (1870), Wikimedia Commons, public domain
  15. 15. Gilman on Mitchell “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’” (1913) “This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, … [then] sent me home with solemn advice to ‘live as domestic a life as far as possible,’ to ‘have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,’ and ‘never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again’ as long as I lived.” Helen L. Horowitz, Wild Unrest (2010): Exaggeration? Gilman c. 1915, Flickr photo shared by Schleisinger Library (Harvard), no known copyright restrictions
  16. 16. Gilman, later life Gilman & daughter, ca. 1897, Flickr photo shared by Schleisinger Library (Harvard), no known copyright restrictions • 1888: separated from Walter Stetson, moved to California w/daughter Katherine (divorced 1894) • Becomes prominent writer & public intellectual • 1894: sends daughter to live with father & new wife • 1900: marries cousin George Gilman • 1909-1916: The Forerunner • 1935: death—”I have preferred chloroform to cancer”
  17. 17. “THE YELLOW WALL-PAPER” (1892)
  18. 18. The “Female Gothic” Cliveden Mansion, Philadelphia, Wikimedia Commons, public domain -- Carol M. Davison, “Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper” (2004) Woman taken to castle or manor home by man House represents women’s ambivalence towards social institutions (fear of entrapment/desire for protection) Dark underside of domestic ideals Repressed & dangerous aspects of self threaten to surface
  19. 19. “Creeping” Women “She Walketh Veiled and Sleeping” Women’s Journal (1889) She walkedth veiled and sleeping, For she knoweth not her power; She obeyeth but the pleading Of her heart, and the high leading Of her soul, unto this hour. Slow advancing, halting, creeping, Comes the Woman to the hour!– She walketh veiled and sleeping, For she knoweth not her power.
  20. 20. “An Obstacle” (selections) I was climbing up a mountain-path With many things to do, Important business of my own, And other people's too, When I ran against a Prejudice That quite cut off the view. My work was such as could not wait, My path quite clearly showed, My strength and time were limited, I carried quite a load; And there that hulking Prejudice Sat all across the road. So I spoke to him politely, For he was huge and high, And begged that he would move a bit And let me travel by. He smiled, but as for moving! -- He didn't even try. Then I flew into a passion, and I danced and howled and swore. I pelted and belabored him Till I was stiff and sore; He got as mad as I did -- But he sat there as before. …………………. So I sat before him helpless, In an ecstasy of woe -- The mountain mists were rising fast, The sun was sinking slow -- When a sudden inspiration came, As sudden winds do blow. I took my hat, I took my stick, My load I settled fair, I approached that awful incubus With an absent-minded air -- And I walked directly through him, As if he wasn't there!
  21. 21. OUR ANDROCENTRIC CULTURE, OR THE MAN-MADE WORLD (1911)
  22. 22. Three spheres of life (5) HUMAN FEMALE -- motherhood -- MALE -- fatherhood -- Natural male tendencies: • Desire • Combat • Self-expression Natural female tendencies: • Caring, nurturing
  23. 23. Androcentric Culture MALE FEMALE • Desire • Combat • Self- expression • Caring, nurturing “Human” (the norm) -- reserved for men “Female” (sexed)
  24. 24. Androcentric Culture MALE / HUMAN FEMALE • Desire • Combat • Self- expression • Caring, nurturing Culture, industry, art, politics, intellectual work… Home, family, domesticity
  25. 25. Periods of Human History From Lester Ward, Pure Sociology (1903) Now, and recorded human history Gynaeco- centric Andro- centric Human
  26. 26. Effects of Androcentric Culture Male sexual selection Male-dominant proprietary family • Focus of family becomes him rather than children The Löbmann family, early 1900s, Flickr photo by Liz Lawley licensed CC BY-SA 2.0
  27. 27. Effects of Androcentric Culture • Art, literature, industry & work
  28. 28. A Human Culture “… the effort of this book is by no means to attribute a wholly evil influence to men, and a wholly good one to women; it is not even claimed that a purely feminine culture would have advanced the world more successfully. It does claim that the influence of the two together is better than that of either one alone …” (Chpt. VI, p. 30; not assigned) Gynaeco- centric Andro- centric Human
  29. 29. A Human Culture Neither male nor female, but accessible equally to all as humans Democracy (ch. 10) Society based on service, peace, aiming at good for all (ch. 10) People doing work they enjoy (ch. 13) Women doing sexual selection; motherhood as base of family (ch. 14) BUT: “… of the two women are more vitally human than the men” (63).
  30. 30. Is this the picture? MALE FEMALE • Desire • Combat • Self- expression • Caring, nurturing “Male” (sexed) “Human” (the norm)

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