Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was known primarily for
her feminist writings and activism. She wrote numerous short stories, along with non-fiction, poetry, a number of novels, and even dramas, which are not
available to the public at this time, according to
This is a very short collection of seven very short stories, but even in their brevity they pack a punch.
The title story is perhaps Gilman's most well-known, as it is autobiographical in nature. It is about a woman's descent into madness, a condition that almost devastated Gilman herself after the birth of her daughter. The doctors prescribed rest and domestic duties as therapy, and that was exactly what Gilman did not need. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
After nine weeks, Gilman was sent home with Mitchell's instructions, "Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time. Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours' intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live." She tried for a few months to follow Mitchell's advice, but her depression deepened, and Gilman came perilously close to a full emotional collapse. Her remaining sanity was on the line and she began to display suicidal behavior that involved talk of pistols and chloroform, as recorded in her husband's diaries. By early summer the couple had decided that a divorce was necessary for her to regain sanity without affecting the lives of her husband and daughter.
After that, Gilman's mental state began to improve. She put
herself to work in intellectual, literary, and activist pursuits, and regained control of her life. In 1900, she married her first cousin Houghton Gilman, and
their successful marriage was much different than her first.
The stories in this collection reflect Gilman's attitude toward what was the accepted place of women in society. Most of them are humorous and most deal with relationships between men and women. In The Yellow Wallpaper, a woman is confined to an upper room in a summer house where the rest and solitude is supposed to cure her of her depression. She trusts her husband, who loves her, that he knows best, but in her boredom, she begins to see women moving around in the hideous wallpaper that covers the room she is in.
In Three Thanksgivings, an older widow is struggling to keep the family home she loves. She takes in boarders, which supply just enough to pay the interest on her small mortgage. An admirer, who wanted to marry her years ago, now holds the mortgage, but it will come due in two years. He still wants to marry her, and tries to convince her that marriage would solve everything. As he says, he owns the house now, anyways. Her married children both want her to live with them. She stays with her son on the first Thanksgiving, and her daughter on the second, but meanwhile, she has gathered together her loyal and lifelong friends, and they have a plan.
In The Cottagette, a woman who is in love with a man is convinced by her friend that the way to his heart is through his stomach, as the saying goes. It turns out that isn't true, in this humorous story.
Turned is a bittersweet story about a woman who finds that her husband has been unfaithful. But after her initial shock and pain, she realizes that the young and naïve girl whom he has impregnated has been wronged just as badly as herself.
In Making a Change, a woman feels she must bear the responsibility of doing all the domestic work, while also caring for her baby son, who cries incessantly. Her mother-in-law and husband criticize her and even worse, she is kept from her music career. But when she attempts suicide, her mother-in-law suddenly changes her attitude. The two get together and create a wonderful plan, that at first shocks and angers her husband until he sees how good it is.
If I Were a Man is a sort of bizarre, surreal story about a woman who suddenly becomes her husband and can see the world from his viewpoint, leading to improvements in their relationship on both sides.
In Mr. Peebles' Heart, a woman, who is a doctor, realizes that her sister's clinging and stagnant attitude towards her good husband is having devastating effects on his mental and physical well-being, so she prescribes a long vacation for him in Europe—without his wife.
These are well-worth investigating, and the short book is a snap to read. Thankfully, many of these women's issues have evolved into better attitudes in this day and age, but I think there are still improvements needed in gender equality and purging of outdated and ingrained beliefs.
All material on this site copyright © 2017 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.