Monday, May 19, 2008

The Yellow Wallpaper & Other Stories, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(pb; 1997: short story anthology)

From the back cover:

"Best known for the 1892 title story of this collection, a harrowing tale of a woman's descent into madness, [the author] wrote more than 200 other short stories. Seven of her finest are reprinted here.

"Written from a feminist perspective, often focusing on the inferior status accorded to women by society, the tales include: 'Turned,' an ironic story with a startling twist, in which a husband seduces and impregnates a naive servant; 'Cottagette,' concerning the romance of a young artist and a man who's apparently too good to be true; 'Mr. Peeble's Heart,' a liberating tale of a fiftyish shopkeeper whose sister-in-law, a doctor, persuades him to take a solo trip to Europe, with revivifying results; 'The Yellow Wallpaper,'; and three other outstanding stories..."


Gilman's writing is economical, engaging -- her characterizations aren't always as fully fleshed as they could be (a fault often found in writers of Gilman's ilk: the social point supercedes characterization), but it's a minor quibble.

If there's a glaring weak point, it's the title story. It rambles on about in a vague fashion about the woman's sickness (in reality, she's just depressed), ending on a symbolic, but equally vague note. I suspect this story has found acclaim with many because of Gilman's feminist leanings. That's okay, but one doesn't judge a writer's works for their political/gender beliefs alone; one judges a writer's works for their literary prowess, which "The Yellow Wallpaper" lacks.

The rest of the stories don't suffer from the vagueness of the title story. They're on-target, efficacious and near-perfect. My favorite stories are: "Mr. Peeble's Heart," "Three Thanksgivings" and "If I Were a Man".

(Note: Much of what Gilman has written has been done to death these days. Hence, one should read this with the notion that Gilman's work predated the cliche-dom/generalized assertions of her ideas.)

Worth checking out, this.

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