Wonderfully sardonic and slyly humorous, the writings of landmark American feminist and socialist thinker Charlotte Perkins Gilman were penned in response to her frustrations with the gender-based double standard that prevailed in America as the twentieth century began. Perhaps best known for her chilling depiction of a woman's mental breakdown in her unforgettable 1892 short story 'The Yellow Wall-Paper', Gilman also wrote Herland, a wry novel that imagines a peaceful, progressive country from which men have been absent for 2,000 years. Both are included in this volume, along with a selection of Gilman's major short stories and her poems.
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was born in New England, a descendant of the prominent and influential Beecher family. In 1884 she married Charles Water Stetson. After giving birth, Charlotte sank into a deep depression. She entered a sanitarium in Philadelphia to undergo the 'rest cure', a controversial treatment, which forbade any type of physical activity or intellectual stimulation. 1892, she published the now-famous story 'The Yellow Wall-Paper'. In 1898, her most famous nonfiction book, Women and Economics, was published. With its publication, and subsequent translation into seven languages, Gilman earned international acclaim. In 1900, she married her first cousin, George Houghton Gilman. Over the next thirty-five years, she wrote and published hundreds of stories and poems and more than a dozen books.
Denise D. Knight is a professor of English at the State University of New York at Courtland, where she specializes in nineteenth-century American Literature. She is author of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction and editor of The Later Poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Abridged Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. She is also the author of numerous articles, essays, and reviews on nineteenth-century American writers.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER I - A Not Unnatural Enterprise
CHAPTER II - Rash Advances
CHAPTER III - A Peculiar Imprisonment
CHAPTER IV - Our Venture
CHAPTER V - A Unique History
CHAPTER VI - Comparisons Are Odious
CHAPTER VII - Our Growing Modesty
CHAPTER VIII - The Girls of Herland
CHAPTER IX - Our Relations and Theirs
CHAPTER X - Their Religions and Our Marriages
CHAPTER XI - Our Difficulties
CHAPTER XII - Expelled
The Giant Wistaria
An Extinct Angel
The Yellow Wall-Paper’
The Boys and The Butter
Mrs. Beazley’s Deeds
Making a Change
Mrs. Elder’s Idea
The Chair of English
Dr. Clair’s Place
The Unnatural Mother
One Girl of Many
In Duty Bound
On the Pawtuxet
She Walketh Veiled and Sleeping
To the Young Wife
More Females of the Species
EXPLANATORY AND TEXTUAL NOTES
THE YELLOW WALL-PAPER, HERLAND, AND SELECTED WRITINGS
CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN (1860-1935) was born in New England, a descendant of the prominent and influential Beecher family. Despite the affluence of her famous ancestors, she was born into poverty. Her father abandoned the family when she was a child, and she received just four years of formal education. At an early age she vowed never to marry, hoping instead to devote her life to public service. In 1882, however, at the age of twenty-one, she was introduced to Charles Walter Stetson (1858-1911), a handsome Providence, Rhode Island, artist, and the two were married in 1884. Charlotte Stetson became pregnant almost immediately after their marriage, gave birth to a daughter, and sank into a deep depression that lasted for several years. She eventually entered a sanitarium in Philadelphia to undergo the “rest cure,” a controversial treatment for nervous prostration, which forbade any type of physical activity or intellectual stimulation. After a month, she returned to her husband and child and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1888, she left Stetson and moved with her daughter to California, where her recovery was swift. In the early 1890s, she began a career in writing and lecturing, and in 1892, she published the now-famous story “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” A volume of poems, In This Our World, followed a year later. In 1894, she relinquished custody of her young daughter to her ex-husband and endured public condemnation for her actions. In 1898, her most famous nonfiction book, Women and Economics, was published. With its publication, and its subsequent translation into seven languages, Gilman earned international acclaim. In 1900, she married her first cousin, George Houghton Gilman. Over the next thirty-five years, she wrote and published hundreds of stories and poems and more than a dozen books, including Concerning Children (1900), The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903), Human Work (1904), The Man Made World; Or, Our Androcentric Culture (1911), Moving the Mountain (1911), Herland (1915), With Her in Ourland (1916), His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers (1923), and The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (1935). From 1909 to 1916 she singlehandedly wrote, edited, and published her own magazine, The Forerunner, in which the utopian romance Herland first appeared. In 1932, Gilman learned that she had inoperable breast cancer. Three years later, at the age of seventy-five, she committed suicide, intending her death to demonstrate her advocacy of euthanasia. In 1993, Gilman was named in a poll commissioned by the Siena Research Institute as the sixth most influential woman of the twentieth century. In 1994, she was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
DENISE D. KNIGHT is professor of English at the State University of New York at Cortland, where she specializes in nineteenth-century American Literature. She is author of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction and editor of The Later Poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Abridged Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. She is also the author of numerous articles, essays, and reviews on nineteenth-century American writers.
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This collection under the title Herland, The Yellow Wall-Paper, and Selected Writings first published in Penguin Books 1999
This edition published 2009
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I wish to express my appreciation to Kristine Puopolo, my editor at Penguin Books, for her commitment to this project and for her guidance and thoughtful suggestions. I am also grateful to Gretchen M. Gogan in the interlibrary loan department at the State University of New York at Cortland for cheerfully and promptly responding to my requests for assistance. Gary Scharnhorst deserves recognition for his early work on Gilman and particularly for compiling Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Bibliography (1985), an indispensable resource for Gilman scholars. Most of all, I thank my husband, Michael K. Barylski, for his ongoing love, support, encouragement, and interest in my work on Gilman.
Near the end of her autobiography, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) sardonically remarks that “This is the woman’s century, the first chance for the mother of the world to rise to her full place, ... to remake humanity, to rebuild the suffering world—and the world waits while she powders her nose.”1 Frustrated both by women who transformed themselves into sex objects for the pleasure of men and by society’s gender-based double standard, Gilman created a fictional utopia, Herland (1915), where such frivolous items as face powder would be obsolete. Indeed, not only is Herland devoid of feminine vanity of any kind, its all-female inhabitants have created a peaceful, progressive, environmentally conscious country from which men have been absent for two thousand years. Rather than suffering deprivation, the women have thrived. Herland depicts a healthy, alternative view of women and demonstrates a degree of social reform that Gilman, caught in the conventional trappings of the turn-of-the-century patriarchal society, could envision only in her imagination.
Born Charlotte Anna Perkins in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 3, 1860, Gilman was the great-niece of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), and Henry Ward Beecher, the renowned minister. Despite her famous ancestry (her great-grandfather was the distinguished theologian Lyman Beecher), Gilman lived a troubled childhood. After her father abandoned the family, her mother, a part-time day-school teacher, was left to raise two children on her own. With only meager earnings, it was a precarious existence. During her adolescence, Gilman became a passionate rebel, defiantly rejecting the conventional roles deemed appropriate for late-nineteenth-century women. At the age of eighteen, she entered the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied drawing and painting. By the time she was twenty she had decided to devote her life to public service. Although she had vowed never to marry, in January 1882 she met Rhode Island artist Charles Walter Stetson, who proposed marriage just two-and-a-half weeks later. Fearing that marriage would compromise her desire to work, Gilman quickly declined. In a letter to Stetson, Gilman tried to express her reservations: “As much as I love you I love WORK better, & I cannot make the two compatible.... I am meant to be useful & strong, to help many and do my share in the world’s work, but not to be loved.”2 Stetson persisted with marriage proposals for nearly two years, however, and despite serious misgivings on Gilman’s part, they were married on May 2, 1884.
Within weeks after the wedding Gilman became pregnant and sank into a deep depression. Her daughter, Katharine Beecher Stetson, was born on March 23, 1885. Gilman recalled in her autobiography both the severity of her distress and the self-blame that she suffered:
Absolute incapacity. Absolute misery.... Prominent among the tumbling suggestions of a suffering brain was the thought, “You did it yourself! You had health and strength and hope and glorious work before you—and you threw it all away. You were called to serve humanity, and you cannot serve yourself. No good as a wife, no good as a mother, no good at anything. And you did it yourself!” ... I would hold [the baby] close, and instead of love and happiness, feel only pain.... Nothing was more utterly bitter than this, that even motherhood brought no joy.3
In the spring of 1887, Gilman traveled to Philadelphia, where she underwent the “rest cure” from the leading nerve specialist, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell. The treatment he prescribed required Gilman to live as domestic a life as possible, to have the baby with her at all times, and to never touch a pen, a paintbrush, or a pencil for the remainder of her life. Within months after returning home, she suffered a nervous breakdown. With the modicum of rational intelligence that remained, Gilman garnered the courage to reject Mitchell’s advice and to immerse herself again in her work. Her marriage could not survive under the strain of her resolve, however, and in the fall of 1887, she and Stetson agreed to separate. In 1888, Gilman left with Katharine for Pasadena, California, where her recovery was swift. Freed from the constraints of marriage, she formally launched her career as a writer and lecturer, preaching about the marginalized status of women to increasingly large audiences.
Over the course of her lifetime, Gilman proved to be enormously prolific, publishing some five hundred poems, nearly two hundred short stories, hundreds of essays, eight novels, and an autobiography. She also emerged as one of the key figures in the late-nineteenth-century women’s movement. Her most famous story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” was published in 1892, followed by a book of poetry, In This Our World, a year later. The publication of her landmark feminist treatise Women and Economics (1898) quickly launched Gilman into the spotlight. At the heart of Women and Economics is Gilman’s insistence that as long as women were economically dependent on men, they could never reach their full potential as human beings. Translated into seven languages, the book won Gilman international acclaim and established her as the authority on the relationship between female sexual oppression and economic dependence on men.
With Gilman’s public visibility increasing, changes in her personal life were inevitable. The extensive travel and long workdays made it difficult for her to find time for her young daughter. In 1894, she made the agonizing decision to relinquish custody of Katharine to Walter Stetson, whom she divorced the same year. Gilman was publicly condemned for her actions and branded an “unnatural” mother by her detractors. For his part, Stetson soon married Gilman’s long-time friend, Grace Ellery Channing. With Katharine back East with Stetson and his new wife, Gilman resumed her work with renewed vigor.
During her early years in California, Gilman read Edward Bellamy’s socialist-utopian romance, Looking Backward (1888). She was drawn to Bellamy’s emphasis on political, social, and economic equality and quickly became a convert to Nationalism, the movement spawned by Bellamy’s novel. Based on the principles of reform Darwinism, Nationalism reflected a belief in environmental determinism and embraced the view that society would evolve peacefully and progressively. It also promoted an end to capitalism and class distinctions and advanced the idea of the democratic improvement of the human race. Gilman was particularly attracted by the novel’s emphasis on women’s rights and began actively advocating such social reforms as economic independence, the restructuring of the home and child-care practices—based in part on “social motherhood” (a system that would enlist the skills of highly trained child-care professionals)—and dress reform, all themes that would recur in her fictional utopias years later, most notably in Herland.
In 1900, thirty-nine-year-old Charlotte Stetson married her first cousin, George Houghton Gilman, a Wall Street attorney. The couple settled in New York, and Gilman continued to write and lecture, often embarking on national lecture tours. In 1909, finding it increasingly difficult to secure an audience for her progressive views, she began her own monthly magazine, the Forerunner, which enjoyed a seven-year run. Like nearly all of her writing, the Forerunner was primarily didactic and featured short stories, serialized novels, essays, articles, fables and fantasies, satires ...
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