Charlotte Perkins Gilman Homepage

1892 Illustrations
From The New England Magazine.

Why I Wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper"?

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Many and many a reader has asked me that. When the story first came out, in the New England Magazine about 1891, a Boston physician made protest in The Transcript. Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.
Another physician, in Kansas I think, wrote to say that it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen, and -- begging my pardon -- had I been there?
Now the story of the story is this:
For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia -- and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest-cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and 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. This was in 1887.
I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.
Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist's advice to the winds and went to work again -- work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite -- ultimately recovering some measure of power.
Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper," with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.
The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate -- so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.
But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading "The Yellow Wallpaper."
It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.
SOURCE: The Forerunner, October 1913.

In addressing Radcliffe's student body in 1890, [Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell] expressed his view that women in general often collapsed under the strain that higher education imposed on their physical and emotional state. "I no more want [women] to be preachers, lawyers, or platform orators, than I want men to be seamstresses or nurses of children." . . . His notion of a proper education was one that taught child care and domestic skills. Mitchell objected to any girl under the age of seventeen using her brain even moderately. To so so, he warned, would endanger her health, and her future would be "the shawl and the sofa."
SOURCE: S. Weir Mitchell, Novelist and Physician,
by Ernest Penney Earnest (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1950)

Related Web Sites

Original Magazine Text
@ Cornell University's Making of America Archive

The Yellow Wallpaper Site
@ the University of Texas

A student film of "The Yellow Wallpaper"
(shot in 16mm, in 1996; no clips, but the shooting script and other info)

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