Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Randall notes Charlotte Perkins Gilman for Women's History Month

Randall: Charlotte Perkins Gilman (7-3-1860 to 8-17-1935) was an influential writer and feminist.

Many know her for the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" which details one woman's "rest cure" (a quack therapy meant to re-socialize women) and the madness it brings about. Gilman herself found salvation not in retiring from the world but in interacting with it.

Her first husband, Charles Walter Stetson, consulted Silas Weir Mitchell who was a neurologist and prescribed the "rest cure" for Gilman. When you realize that she lived through it, a new layer is added to "The Yellow Wallpaper." During her rest cure, she would crawl into closets and play with a "rag baby" that she made herself. In a moment of bravery and great strength, she fled her home and went to stay with friends. Soon she would open a boarding house to support herself, her mother and her daughter. It was in this period that she became a professional writer.

Beginning with her first book, In This Our World, Gilman would become a noted writer in her day. Her book Looking Backward was set in the year 2000. In 1898 she would publish Women and Economics which would be a landmark book that went through many printings.

For seven years, she would edit and write for the monthly magazine, The Forerunner -- a magazine that she founded. In 1915, she would publish Herland -- a novel that is still studied and read today.

As for her personal life, her second marriage (to her cousin George Houghton Gilman) would be much happier than her first. But it ended in 1934 when her husband died. Gilman would die two years later at her own hand when she chose suicide over living with inoperable cancer. But before she died, she would write her autobiography (The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman) which contains her suicide note in the book's final pages. In that note, she wrote "I have preferred chloroform to cancer."