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February 11, 2024 26 mins

Margaret reads you a classic feminist horror story about the madness caused by patriarchy.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Wol Zone Media book Club book Club, book Club book Club. Hello,
it's the Cool Zone Media book Club. I'm your host,
Margaret Giljoy and with me today as a guest. Is
you the listener? You're the guest today and you can

respond out loud to the people around you as you listen.
It'll be especially funny if you have hadphones on every Sunday,
I bring you a different story. This time, I'm bringing
you a different story. You might have heard of this
one before. It's a feminist classic from eighteen ninety one.

It's called The Yellow Wallpaper and it was written by
Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was actually published in eighteen ninety two.
Charlotte couldn't find a publisher for it for a while
because the first person I rejected it was like everyone
who reads this will be driven mad. So content warning,

you'll be driven mad if you listen to this. But
eventually it was published by the New England Magazine, which
is a literary magazine that there's been like eight magazines
with that title. And it was written by a rather
interesting woman, an early feminist and zinester, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

And I'm gonna tell you about her really quick. Also,
we're gonna split this story up over two weeks because
it's a little bit longer than the average story. But
I'm really excited about bringing you all classics sometimes, like
one of my goals with this book club is to
read you some of the stories that stay in my mind,
some of the stories that I think about a lot. So.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in eighteen sixty and she
grew up poor as hell with her mom and her brother,
but also her father's aunts. Her father had fucked off
and ditched the family basically, but his aunts kind of
stepped in, and this included Harriet Beecher Stowe is the
woman who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, So clearly she has
some like literariness in her family. But she also her

mom was incredibly emotionally distant and wouldn't let her have
friends or read books. So anyway, she grew up a tomboy.
She was smart as hell but bad at school, which
I fucking love for her. She was also bisexual. She
loved and lived with different women and men over the
course of her life. She had a girlfriend when she

was young, but that lady left Charlotte to marry a man,
and Charlotte swore off romance after that until she wound
up married herself and she had a kid. As a
result of having a kid, she wrote the story were
about to read, and then she left her husband to
go back with living with women and then eventually married
a man, and etc. Etc. She was a lifelong activist.

She was a socialist feminist, and she spent her life
traveling around and talking about feminism. She added a newspaper
and wrote books and shit, including her own magazine called
The Forerunner, in which she published her fiction. She also
published a serialized novella That's too Long for book Club,
which I'm sad about because it's how I first heard
about her myself. It's this book called her Land, and

I highly recommend it, not as like, go out and
do what this book recommends, but as like a way
to understand early twentieth century utopian feminism. It's really fascinating.
It's about an all woman socialist utopia that uses like
food forestry and basically permaculture and just is way ahead
of its time and has all the problems with utopianism,

some of which we'll talk about in a second. Her
feminism overall was pretty cool. She was against gender essentialism.
She said, quote, there is no female mind. The brain
is not an organ of sex, might as well speak
of a female liver. She also fought for communal housing
so that you don't have to like get married to

be financially stable. Basically, she was like not excited about
the nuclear family, or rather, she was not excited about
the nuclear family as being like the default and it
being She acknowledged that families exist as a economic relationship
as much as anything else, and so she was always
looking for ways to break the prisons of that economic relationship.

But she was also a weird old timey racist in
a more complicated way. Normally, when you say old timey racist,
you mean somebody's like real, real bad, And I mean
she was trying, but not incredibly well you know, or
didn't didn't always, Okay, I'll just tell you about it.
She was a eugenicist in that classic early feminist twentieth

century way. If you want to hear me talk way
too much about that, you can listen to any number
of my episodes about early feminists and also early socialists
and and folks of all kinds and how people interacted
with eugenics over the course of the early twentieth century.
She did fight for the rights of interracial marriage, and
she spoke for racial harmony. She spent a lot of

her time condemning the US's racist history, and she thought
that the problems with black people were the fault of
white people because of slavery and racism, and that it
was white people's responsibility to help black people. But the
ways in which she came up to do it is
where you get into her racism. She was like, she

had real sketchy solutions, like can script all unemployed black
folks into a quasi military state labor force for job training,
which is not a good look. That's not a good
You were wrong person who died a long time ago.
But yeah, she wrote this story and a bunch of others,

and then well, actually, in a lot of ways, her
and her stories were largely forgotten until they were brought
back into print in the early seventies by feminist publishers,
and in this case that was the still existent feminist press.
And I think about this story all the time, and
at the end of the story we'll talk about some
of the influences it had. So get ready for the

story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, written in
eighteen ninety one, published in eighteen ninety two. It is
very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself
secure ancestral halls for the summer, a colonial mansion, a
hereditary estate. I would say a haunted house, and reach

the height of romantic felicity, but that would be asking
too much of fate. Still, I will proudly declare that
there is something queer about it. Else why should it
be let so cheaply? And why have stood so long untenanted?
John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that
in marriage. John is practical in the extreme. He has

no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and
he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to
be felt and seen and put down in figures. John
is a physician, and perhaps I would not say this
to a living soul, of course, but this is dead
paper and a great relief to my mind. Perhaps that

is one reason I do not get well faster. You see,
he does not believe that I am sick. And what
can one do if a physician of high standing and
one's own husband assures friends and relatives that there is
really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression,
a slight hysterical tendency. What is one to do? My

brother is also a physician, and also a high standing
and he says the same thing. So I take phosphates
or phosphights, whichever it is, and tonics and journeys and
air and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to work until
I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally,

I believe that congenial work with excitement and change would
do me good. But what is one to do. I
did write for a while in spite of them, but
it does exhaust me a good deal having to be
so sly about it or else meet with heavy opposition.
I sometimes fancy that, in my condition, if I had
less opposition and more society and stimulus. But John says,

the very worst thing I can do is to think
about my condition, and I confess it always makes me
feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk
about the house. Antig with these sweet, sweet deals from
the advertisers that interrupt this thing, Oh, oh god dear,
they are the most beautiful place. It is quite alone,

standing well back from the road, quite three miles from
the village. It makes me think of English places that
you read about for their hedges and walls and gates
that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the
gardeners and people. There is a delicious garden. I never
saw such a garden, large and shady, full of box

bordered paths and lined with long grape covered arbors with
seats under them. There were greenhouses too, but they are
all broken now. There was some legal trouble. I believe
something about the airs and cohirs. Anyhow, the place has
been empty for years. That spoils my ghostliness. I am afraid,

but I don't care. There is something strange about the house.
I can feel it. I even said so to John
one moonlit evening, but he said what I felt was
a draft and shut the window. I get unreasonably angry
with John sometimes. I'm sure I never used to be
so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.

But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect
proper self control. So I take pains to control myself
before him at least, and that makes me very tired.
I don't like our room a bit. I wanted one
downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all
over the window in such pretty old fashioned chintz hangings.

But John would not hear of it. He said there
was only one window, and not room for two beds,
and no near room for him if he took another.
He is very careful and loving and hardly lets me
stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription each
hour in the day, and he takes all care from me,

and I feel so basely ungrateful not to value it more.
He said. We came here solely on my account, that
I was to have perfect rest and all the air
I could get. Your exercise depends on your strength, my dear,
said he, and your food somewhat on your appetite, but
air you can absorb all the time. So we took

the nursery at the top of the house. It is
a big, airy room, the whole floor nearly with windows
that look all ways and air and sunshine galore. It
was nursery first, and then playground and gymnasium. I should judge,
for the windows are barred for little children, and there
are rings and things in the wall. The paint and

paper look as if a boy's school had used it.
It is stripped off the paper in great patches all
around the head of my bed, about as far as
I can reach, and in a great place on the
other side of the room low down. I never saw
a worse paper in my life. One of those sprawling,
flamboyant patterns, committing every artistic sin. It is dull enough

to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly
irritate and provoke study. And when you follow the lame,
uncertain curves for a little distance, they suddenly commit suicide,
plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves an unheard of contradictions.
The color is repellent, almost revolting, a smoldering, unclean yellow,

strangely faded by the slow turning sunlight. It is a
dull yet lurid orange, in some places a sickly sulfur
tint in others. No wonder the children hated it. I
should hate it myself if I had to live in
this room. Long. There comes John, and I must put
this away. He hates to have me write a word.

We have been here two weeks and I haven't felt
like writing before since that first day. I am sitting
by the window now up in this atrocious nursery, and
there is nothing to hinder my writing as much as
I please, save lack of strength. John is away all
day and even some nights when his cases are serious.
I am glad my case is not serious. But these

nervous troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how
much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason
to suffer, and that satisfies him. Of course. It is
only nervousness. It does weigh on me so not to
do my duty in any way. I meant to be
such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort,

And here I am a comparative burden. Already Nobody would
believe what an effort it is to do what little
I am able to dress and entertain and order things.
It is fortunate Mary is so good with him, baby,
such a dear baby, And yet I cannot be with him.
It makes me so nervous. I suppose John never was

nervous in his life. He laughs at me so about
this wallpaper. At first he meant to repaper the room,
but afterwards he said, I was letting it get the
better of me, and that nothing was worse for a
nervous patient than to give way to such fancies. He
said that after the wallpaper was changed, it would be
the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and in

that gate at the head of the stairs and so on.
You know, the place is doing you good, he said.
And really, dear, I don't care to renovate the house,
just for a three months rental. Then do let us
go downstairs, I said, there are such pretty rooms there.
Then he took me in his arms and called me

a blessed little goose, and said he would go down
cellar if I wished, and have it whitewashed into the bargain.
But he is right enough about the beds and the
windows and things. It is as airy and comfortable room
as one need wish. And of course I would not
be so silly as to make him uncomfortable just for
a whim. I'm really getting quite fond of the big room,

all but that horrid paper. Out of one window I
can see the garden, those mysterious deep shaded arbors, the
riotous old fashioned flowers and bushes, and gnarly trees. Out
of another, I get a lovely view of the bay
and a little private wharf belonging to the estate. There
is a beautiful shaded lane that runs down there from

the house. I always fancy I see people walking in
these numerous paths and arbors. But John has cautioned me
not to give way to fancy in the least. He
says that with my imaginative power and habit of story making,
a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to
all manner of excited fancies. That I ought to use
my will in good sense to check the tendency. So

I try. I think sometimes that if I were only
well enough to write a little, it would relieve the
press of ideas and rest me. But I find I
get pretty tired when I try. It is so discouraging
not to have any advice in companionship about my work.
When I get really well, John says we can ask

cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit. But
he says he would soon put fireworks in my pillowcases.
Let me have those stimulating people about now. I wish
I could get well faster, but I must not think
about that. This paper looks to me as if it
knew what a vicious influence it had. There's a recurrent

spot where the pattern lulls like a broken neck, and
two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get
positively angry with the impertinence of it and the everlastingness.
Up and down in sideways they crawl, and those absurd,
unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where the

two breadths didn't match, and the eyes go all up
and down the line, one a little higher than the other.
I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before,
and we all know how much expression they have. I
used to lie awake as a child and get more
entertainment and tear out of blank walls and plain furniture
than most children could find in a toy store. I

remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big
old bureau used to have. And there was one chair
that always seemed like a strong friend. I used to
feel that if any of the other things looked too fierce,
I could always hop into that chair and be safe.
But you know what else will keep you safe buying
objects and or the services from these advertisers. The furniture

in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for
we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose
when this was used as a playroom, they had to
take the nursery things out, And no wonder I never
saw such ravages as the children have made here. The wallpaper,
as I said before, is torn off in spots, and
sticketh closer than a brother. They must have had perseverance

as well as hatred. Then the floor is scratched and
gouged and splintered. The plaster itself is dug out here
and there. And this great heavy bed, which is all
we found in the room, looks as if it had
been through the wars. But I don't mind it a bit,
only the paper. There comes John's sister. Such a dear

girl as she is, and so careful of me, I
must not let her find me writing. She is a
perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession.
I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which
made me sick. But I can write when she is
out and see her. A long way off from these windows,

there is one that commands the road, A lovely shaded
winding road, and one that looks just off over the country,
A lovely country too, full of great elms and velvet meadows.
This wallpaper has a kind of sub pattern and a
different shade, a particularly irritating one, for you can only
see it in certain lights, and not clearly then, but

in the places where it isn't faded, where the sun
is just so, I can see a strange, provoking, formless
sort of figure that seems to sulk about behind that
silly and conspicuous front design. Their sister on the stairs. Well,
the fourth of July is over, the people are gone,
and I am tired out. John thought it might do

me good to see a little company, so we just
had Mother and Nelly and the children down for a week.
Of course I didn't do a thing. Jenny's to everything now,
but it tired me all the same. John says, if
I don't pick up faster, he shall send me to
weir Mitchell in the fall. But I don't want to
go there at all. I had a friend who is
in his hands once, and she says he is just

like John and my brother, only more so. Besides, it
is such an undertaking to go so far. I don't
feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand
over for anything. And I'm getting dreadfully fretful and querulous.
I cry at nothing, and cry most of the time.
Of course, I don't when John is here or anybody else,

but when I'm alone, and I am alone a good deal.
Just now. John is kept in town very often by
serious cases. And Jenny is good and lets me alone
when I want her to. So I walk a little
in the garden or down that lovely lane, sit on
the porch under the roses, and lie down up here.
A good deal. I'm getting really fond of the room,

in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper,
it dwells on my mind. So I lie here on
this great immovable bed. It is nailed down, I believe,
and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is
as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say,

at the bottom, down in the corner over there, where
it has not been touched. And I determined for the
thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to
some sort of conclusion. I know a little of the
principle of design, and I know that this thing was
not arranged on any laws of radiation or alternation or
repetition or symmetry, or anything else I have ever heard of.

It is repeated, of course by the breaths, but not
otherwise looked at. In one way, each breadth stands alone.
The bloated curves and flourishes, a kind of debased Romanesque
with delirium. Tremends go waddling up and down in isolated
columns of fatuity. But on the other hand, they connect diagonally,

and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves
of optic horror, like wallowing seaweeds in full chase. The
whole thing goes horizontally too, at least it seems so,
and I exhaust myself in trying to distinguish the order
of its going in that direction. They used to have
a horizontal breadth for a freeze, and that adds wonderfully

to the confusion. There is one end of the room
where it is almost intact, and there where the cross
lights fade and the low sun shines directly upon it.
I can almost fancy radiation. After all, the interminable grotesques
seem to form around a common center and rush off
in headlong plunges of equal distraction. It makes me tired

to follow it. It will take a nap. I guess
I don't know why I should write this. I don't
want to. I don't feel able, and I know John
would think it absurd, but I must say what I
feel and think. In some way. It is such a relief,
but the effort is getting to be greater than the

relief half the time. Now I am awfully lazy and
lie down ever so much. John says I mustn't lose
my strength and has me take cod, liver oil and
lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale
and wine and rare meat. Dear John, he loves me
very dearly and hates to have me sick. I tried

to have a real, earnest, reasonable talk with him the
other day and tell him how I wish he would
let me go and make a visit to cousin Henry
and Julia. But he said I wasn't able to go,
nor able to stand it after I got there, and
I did not make out a very good case for myself,
for I was crying before I had finished. It is
getting to be a great effort for me to think straight,

just this nervous weakness, I suppose, and dear John gathered
me up in his arms and just carried me upstairs
and laid me on the bed and sat by me
and read to me till it tired my head. He
said I was his darling and his comfort and all
he had, and that I must take care of myself
for his sake and keep well. He says, no one
but myself can help me out of it. That I

must use my will and self control and not let
any silly fancies run away from me. There's one comfort.
The baby is well and happy and does not have
to occupy this nursery with the horrid wallpaper. If we
had not used it, that blessed child would have. What
a fortunate escape. Why I wouldn't have a child of mine,

an impressionable little thing, live in such a room for worlds?
I never thought of it before, But it is lucky
that John kept me here. After all. I can stand
it so much easier than a baby, you see. Of course,
I never mention it to them any more. I am
too wise, but I keep watch of it all the same.
There are things in that paper nobody knows but me

or ever will behind the outside pattern. The dim shapes
get clearer every day. It is always the same shape,
only very numerous, and it is like a woman stooping
down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don't like
it a bit. I wonder I begin to think I

wish John would take me away from here. And that's
the end of the first part of the Yellow Wallpaper.
And there's no way you could spoil it yourself by
going and reading this thing. That's totally in the public domain.
You can find it on Project Gutenberg. But what's gonna happen.

You're gonna have to wait. You're gonna have to wait
till next Sunday for another episode of Cool Zone Media
book Club. In the meantime, I'm your host and your reader,
Margaret Kiljoy, and you can find me on if you
listen to this on It Could Happen Here Feed. You
can find me with my history podcast Cool People Who
Did Cool Stuff? And if you are listening to this
already on Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff, you can

listen to not Me when it could happen here. It's
all part of Cool Zone Media, which is what provides
you your book club. I'm just gonna press stop now.
It Could Happen Here as a production of cool Zone Media.
For more podcasts from cool Zone Media, visit our website
coolzonemedia dot com or check us out on the iHeartRadio app,

Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can
find sources for It could Happen Here, updated monthly at
coolzonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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