There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. As well speak of a female liver. – “Charlotte Perkins Gilman”
Why I’m reading it?
I’ve come across this book when I was searching for short novels to finish my reading goal. This is the first time I’ve heard about this book (pardon my ignorance). Book seems small indeed, with even smaller short stories collection. Goodreads average rating of this book is also very good. So, here I go.
At first I thought to give a generic review of this collection, but then I decided to give my review for all stories.These stories are written over a span of time , from 1890 to 1916, and somewhat gives the impression about authoress growth over time too. While initially, her stories are very depressing, crying about the injustice towards women, her later stories has some hope in it. Charlotte was a role model for feminists in early 1900, and her work is a living proof of it. She was vocal about injustice towards women and has written continuously to serve that purpose. Her work was very influential and was instrumental in bringing some change in society. Her most famous story is Yellow wall-paper and first story of this book. Let’s explore each story…
The Yellow Wall-paper– Title story of this collection is the best and the one authoress has been known for the most. It shows beautifully (dark choice of words), decline of a woman into madness. It shows very subtly postpartum depression and society scoffing at it and suggesting remedies which would in turn make a bad situation worse.Naturally after reading this, I read about the writer and this was semi-autobiography. I’m also amazed at the way that in so less words, she delivered such a big story.
That Rare Jewel– Hypocrisy at its best. A stern commentary on bias towards women in a situation where a man is right and woman wrong. When a man rejects a woman, it’s because woman took his kindness for love, but when a woman does the same, it’s because women are coquettish by nature and heartless. Story tone is humorous, but message is very serious.
The Unexpected– This is a light comedy as well, but message is clear. A woman has to play dumb to earn love. Too much intelligence goes against the grain of ‘being woman’. Story’s end is not so dark, but it will make you think.
Circumstances alter cases– Very similar to ‘That rare jewel’ , name of the story pretty much tells you it’s content. Expectations are different in a similar situation with different sexes.
The Giant Wistaria– You really have to pay attention if you don’t want re-read to understand what happened? There is a story within story and ghosts tells the injustice they received to fulfill the norm of this society. As usual, woman was at the receiving end of it.
An Extinct Angel– Women are put on a pedestal and viewed as angels. As angels they end up doing dirty work for men. This is an ironical story where although angels, women are ill-used thoroughly. And since they are angels , they have no right to complain and bear their burden with smile.
The Rocking-Chair– This is a supernatural story. For a change, no feminist message. Just plain old ghost. A simple story at that.
Deserted– This story differs from other stories in the tone. Here it’s just not about injustice towards women, but what in turn a woman can do to better her situation. Story has a hope about it. When husband sold his wife’s property without asking, is a heavy drinker and fulfills no responsibilities, what does a wife do?
An Elopement– A different kind of elopement. Here women are the enemies of each other. An enforced piousness, an unwilling victim, what can she do? Should she continue her life like that, or should she elope?
Through This– Diary of a woman’s daily life. As she passes through this day, how her feelings change. Story starts with Darkness, dim gray, dull blue, soft lavender, clear pink, pale yellow, warm gold- Sunlight. Story ends with Warm gold, pale yellow, clear pink, soft lavender, dull blue, dim gray- Darkness. Everything in between is the life.
The Misleading of Pendleton Oaks- A light comic story of women teasing men. There is a poem in it. For those who has feeble mind like me in poetry, pay extra attention.
A Day’s Berryin’ – Two sisters out for berrying and exchanging local gossip about a tenant.
Five Girls– Kind of impractical story even today, where five girls who studied together, planned to live forever like this. They made an elaborate planning for that too, finances are no issue, mates come along and join them and they live happily ever after. It’s a wishful story alright but not practical in any sense.
One way out– An engaged couple, both maintaining status quo not to hurt other’s feeling. What’s the way out?
An Unpatented Process– A victory tale of a woman of making a man domesticated. I didn’t enjoy this story much, it insinuates the cunning in a woman and paints man as a helpless innocent.
An Unnatural Mother- If to save thousands, you sacrifice your child, will you be an unnatural mother? You as an individual might not think like that, but the society does. A sad story.
Three Thanksgivings– A handsome widow, two children, a tireless lover and large debt. How does anyone want to live their life? With children? With a new husband? On her own terms? It’s easy to say to be independent, but very hard to be. What would Mrs Morrison do? It’s an interesting and motivating tale.
According to Solomon- Wife obeys Solomon, even though she is unhappy. She is unhappy not because she is lacking anything in materialistic ways, but because her hands are free , her mind is free, her life lacks something. She can’t work because Solomon doesn’t approve of it. How should she spend her time then? This story is even relatable now. The pain of a housewife who wants to work but can’t. However in this story, Solomon’s wife finds a way.
The Cottagette- Way to a Man’s heart is through his stomach. What if you don’t know this way, or don’t like it, but still learning because you want the passage to his heart. You are learning this at the cost of your natural talent. And is this even a sure shot win? Malda will tell you in this story.
The Widow’s Might– Very much like ‘Three Thanksgivings’ , it’s a story about a widow who takes things in her hands finally. She is not doing what’s ‘expected’ of her, but what she wants to do finally. A hopeful story.
The Jumping-Off Place– Two friends , one plain, one pretty, meet after a very long time. Pretty one always had it easy, plain one had to earn everything. Both are curious what became of other, and both gets surprised. A refreshing story about hard work and persistence and changing your fate.
In Two Houses– Two cousins carrying on their family feud even when there is no real animosity. Their servants are more intelligent than them.
Turned– Story of a betrayal. Considering the time when it was written, it’s a very modern story. When a wife gets betrayed, she blames the ‘Other’ woman. That other woman is home wrecker. Why isn’t the husband blamed? He is the real home wrecker. This theme is explored in this story. I really liked this one.
Making a Change– Again a story about postpartum depression. These days it’s an actual thing, but during those times, it was just woman being woman. That frail one whose nerves are always quivering. When a new mother’s patience is stretched too thin, her mother-in-law intervenes and invents some ingenious methods to tackle the situation.
Mrs Elder’s Idea– Very much ‘According to Solomon’ , this story also talks about subtle tyranny of a husband. Mr Elder says and wife listens. But one day he says something , his wife just can’t abide with. What’s her solution. She loves him, but she can’t accept what he says, is there a solution?
Their House– This story explore the plight of a man burdened with life long responsibilities. Like a woman, he also squashes his desires, his ambitions, his hobbies, so that he can provide for his family. This story is about such man and how he finds a way to live life finally and how that’s actually a positive step in his family life. It proves that following your desires and not suppressing them, makes you a more cheerful person and then only you can make others happy.
Her Beauty- Like ‘The jumping-off place’ , there is a girl who is not beautiful in conventional terms. Instead of feeling inferior to pretty ones, she carves her own path and proves that success has the utmost beauty to it. These standards of beauty are set by society and can’t be taken as generic. But plight of our society is that we generalize them. Everyone has their own beauty, and only when they pursue their natural nature, it comes out with a glow.
Mrs Hines money– This is very much like previous stories, where a woman suddenly finds herself without a husband and is at a loss how to live further. This author suggests there is a way, a more dignified one. Take financial matters in your hand, just because you’re woman doesn’t mean you are not fit to, and live your life on your own terms.
Bee Wise– Story like ‘Five girls’, where women takes command of establishing a society. There are plans, there are rules for a new citizen on the basis of merit and that’s how they were able to setup an almost perfect society. Kind of a utopia story, again not very practical but intriguing nevertheless.
A council of War- Same like ‘Bee wise’ , women waging war on the rules set by men. Making plans to systematically enter into the system and change it. Theme is getting repetitive and boring at least in this collection of stories.
Fulfilment– I liked this story very much. As a single person, I could relate to it a lot. A married woman, even though your friend, will look upon you with pity because of your marital status. They think you lack something in life. Their usual argument about divine responsibility of having children is evoked repetitively. In this story, Irma hears the same thing from her sister, and gives her an apt reply. She is not saying her way is superior to other, she is saying there is no comparison. Each has its own attractions and it’s up to a person to decide which way she wants to go. I’m going to suggest this story to every one of my married friend, who says , ‘Now you should get married’ or ‘You would want child of your own at some point”.
A Partnership– Similar to few other stories of this collection, a wife is bored to death and wants to do something..anything. But what? Husband doesn’t think it necessary but he loves her, so they travel. Travel opens her mind and she finds new venues she can try her hands in. When she put her heart and mind in her new business, it flourishes and husband has to agree that this was right.
If I were a Man– A comic story when a wife’s wishes were answered and she was transported into her husband’s mind. There she realizes, her husband is not so bad , lazy or unattentive like she thinks. She starts to appreciate his point of view and understands his responsibilities too.
Mr. Peeble’s Heart– Mr Peeble is drowning under his responsibilities and he doesn’t even know it. His sister-in-law sees all this and intervenes. Very much like “Their house”, this story is about a man, his desires, his ambitions and his pleasures.
Mrs Merrill’s Duties– What happens when we ignore our talent and immerse ourselves in family duties. Even though we are happy and have loving family, we feel empty. This is the crux of this story. Mrs Merrill has a scientific mind and was on verge of a prominent discovery when she was embroiled in family duties. She answers the call of duty but keep getting back to her interest. That’s her dilemma, should she forget everything and go back to her work, or she should see to her duty?
Girls and Land– Like ‘Her Beauty’, here Dacia abandons conventional path of a girl and explores her mind in ‘Men’s business’ and finds herself very successful.
Dr. Clair’s Place- This story is about depression. When a woman is depressed beyond recovery, she finds a person who directs her towards Dr. Clair. Dr. Clair is an unconventional doctor, who prescribes outdoor activities, some labor, music, rest to cure depression. In those days, like narrated in ‘Yellow Wall-Paper’ , if women are depressed, physical/mental activities were strictly prohibited. Only bed rest was the remedy. This story explores the other way to combat this situation and as per story teller this one seems to be the better one.
A Surplus Woman– Like ‘Council of war’, women meet and decides the fate of surplus women. What is that? When the men are massacred in war, women are left behind. Youth is destroyed, there is no chance of getting a husband, so these women are called surplus, who have no future and are a strain on country’s economy. One of such surplus woman, calls for a meeting to decide they are not burden on anyone.
Joan’s defender– Heartbreaking story of a girl child bullied by her brother and parents taking no note of it. Girl is withering , her self confidence is shattering, and she is on verge of total destruction of her psyche, when her Uncle comes and intervenes. He borrows her for some time and parents willingly accepts, and then uncle gives the girl a balanced life, where she is not differentiated on the basis of her sex. And as a result, she emerges with a strong personality who can now fight her own battles.
My Rating – 4
On the scale of: (1- Hate , 2- Neither like nor dislike, 3- Like, 4- Love, 5- Gaga)
I’ve loved reading this book, because I could relate to it many times. Although after a while stories got kind of repetitive, it shows writer was so serious about what she believed in that she kept coming back to more stories of that sort.
I would have given it 3 stars, but one more star is for its title story which I truly think is a gem.
Why anyone else should read this Book?
If you believe in women’s rights, read this book. If you like reading short stories and be done with a book soon, read this. If you want to be inspired by a person, read this book.
Yellow wall-paper was a semi- autobiography and writer explored her own depression so beautifully, that you can’t escape without an impression. She challenged the methods prescribed by the expert of that time. More than a century ago, she voiced her concerns which are still relevant.
Although her stories get repetitive and idea of utopian society solely run by women is somewhat exasperating, soul of this book is what readers get acquainted with.
If you still can’t commit to this book, read only ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’, that story in itself is brilliant and worth read by everyone.
Have you read it? Are you planning to? What is your opinion? Share them here. Till next time, Happy Reading Folks!!!