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February 18, 2024 25 mins

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

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Cool Zone Media book Club, but Club book Club, book Club,
book Club, the Club. But okay, okay, So welcome to
cools On Media book Club. I'm your host, Margaret Kiljoy,
and today you are my guest. You, dear listener. Very

(00:23):
Victorian to say dear reader, but it's listener if you
want to be pedantic about what noun version of a
verb you are, dear listener. This week we're continuing what
we started last week. This isn't going to make any
sense to you. You have to go back and listen to

(00:44):
part one of the Yellow Wallpaper for part two to
make any sense. But where we last left our hero,
she was going fucking crazy staring at the wallpaper in
the nursery of a fancy house that her husband rented
for It is so hard to talk with John about
my case, because he is so wise and because he
loves me so But I tried it last night. It

(01:08):
was moonlight. The moon shines in all around, just as
the sun does. I hate to see it sometimes it
creeps so slowly and always comes in by one window
or another. John was asleep and I hated to waken him,
so I kept still and watch the moonlight on that
undulating wallpaper till I felt creepy. The faint figure behind

(01:29):
seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted
to get out. I got up softly and went to
feel and see if the paper did move. And when
I came back, John was awake. What is it, little girl,
he said, don't go walking about like that. You will
get cold. I thought it was a good time to talk,
so I told him that I was really not gaining here,

(01:52):
and that I wished he would take me away. Why, darling,
said he. Our lease will be up in three weeks,
and I can't see how to leave before the repairs
are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave
town just now. Of course, if you were in any danger,
I could and would. But you really are better, dear,
whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, dear,

(02:14):
and I know you are gaining flesh and color. Your
appetite is better. I really feel much easier about you.
I don't weigh a bit more, said I, nor as much.
And my appetite may be better in the evening when
you are here, but it is worse in the morning
when you are away. Bless her little heart, said he
with a big hug. She shall be as sick as

(02:35):
she pleases. But now let's improve the shining hours by
going to sleep and talk about it in the morning.
And you won't go away, I asked, gloomily. Why how
can I, dear? It is only three weeks more, and
then we will take a nice little trip out a
few days while Jenny is getting the house ready. Really, Dear,
you are better better in body, perhaps, I began and

(02:58):
stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at
me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could
not say another word. My darling said he. I beg
of you, for my sake and for our child's sake,
as well as for your own, that you will never
for one instant let the idea enter your mind. There
is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating to a temperament like yours.

(03:19):
It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not
trust me as a physician when I tell you so? So?
Of course, I said no more on that score, and
we went to sleep. Before long. He thought I was
asleep first, but I wasn't. I lay there for hours
trying to decide whether that front pattern in the back
pattern really did move together or separately on a pattern

(03:43):
like this by daylight. There is a lack of sequence,
a defiance of law that is a constant irritant to
a normal mind. The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough,
and infuriating enough. But the pattern is torturing. Think you
have mastered it. But just as you get well underway
and following, it turns a back somersultant, and there you are.

(04:07):
It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and
tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream. The
outside pattern is a florid arabesque reminding one of a fungus.
If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable
string of toadstools budding and sprouting in endless convolutions, why

(04:30):
that is something like it? That is sometimes there is
one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems
to notice but myself, and that is that it changes
as the light changes. When the sun shoots in through
the east window. I always watch for that first long
straight ray. It changes so quickly that I can never

(04:51):
quite believe it. That is why I watch it always
by moonlight. The moonshine in all night when there is
a moon, I wouldn't know it was the same paper
at night, in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight,
and the worst of all, by moonlight. It becomes bars.

(05:11):
The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it
is as plain as can be. I didn't realize for
a long time what the thing was that showed behind
that dim sub pattern. But now I am quite sure
it is a woman. By daylight, she is subdued quiet.
I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still.
It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.

(05:35):
I lie down ever so much. Now. John says it
is good for me and to sleep all I can. Indeed,
he started the habit by making me lie down for
an hour after each meal. It is a very bad habit,
I am convinced. For you see, I don't sleep, and
that cultivates deceit. For I don't tell him I'm awake.

(05:56):
Oh no, The fact is I'm getting I'm a little
afraid of John. He seems very queer sometimes, and even
Jenny has an inexplicable look. It strikes me occasionally, just
as a scientific hypothesis that perhaps it is the paper.
I have watched John, when he did not know I

(06:17):
was looking, come into the room suddenly on the most
innocent excuses, and I've caught him several times looking at
the paper and Jenny too. I caught Jenny with her
hands on it once she didn't know I was in
the room, and when I asked her, in a quiet,
very quiet voice, with the most restrained manner possible, what
she was doing with the paper, she turned around as

(06:37):
if she had been caught stealing, and looked quite angry.
Asked me why I should frighten her so then she
said that the paper stained everything it touched, that she
found yellow smooches all over my clothes and John's, and
she wished we would be more careful. Did not that
sound innocent? But I know she was studying in the pattern,
and I am determined that nobody to find it out.

(07:01):
But myself, life is very much more exciting now than
it used to be. You see, I have something more
to expect, to look forward to, to watch. I really
do eat better and am more quiet than I was.
John is so pleased to see me improve, He laughed
a little. The other day and say I seem to
be flourishing in spite of the wallpaper. I turned it

(07:23):
off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling
him it was because of the wallpaper. He would make
fun of me. He might even want to take me away.
I don't want to leave now until I've found it out.
There is a week more, and I think that will
be enough enough for this sick goad. Break time go.

(08:00):
I'm feeling ever so much better. I don't sleep much
at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments,
but I sleep a good deal during the daytime. In
the daytime, it is tiresome and perplexing. There are always
new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow
all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though
I have tried conscientiously. It is the strangest yellow that wallpaper.

(08:23):
It makes me think of all the yellow things I
ever saw, Not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old, foul,
bad yellow things. But there is something else about the paper,
the smell. I noticed it the moment we came into
the room, but with so much air and sun, it
was not bad. Now we've had a week of fog
and rain, and whether the windows are open or not,

(08:44):
the smell is here. It creeps all over the house.
I find it hovering in the dining room, skulking in
the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for
me on the stairs. It gets into my hair even
when I go to ride. If I turn my head
suddenly and surprise it, there is that smell, Such a

(09:05):
peculiar odor too. I've spent hours in trying to analyze it,
to find what it smelled like. It is not bad
at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most
enduring odor I ever met. In this damp weather, it
is awful. I wake up in the night and find
it hanging over me. It used to disturb me. At

(09:27):
first I thought seriously of burning the house to reach
the smell, but now I am used to it. The
only thing I can think of it is that it
is like the color of the paper, a yellow smell.
There is a very funny mark on this wall, low
down near the mop board, a streak that runs round
the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture except

(09:50):
the bed, a long, straight, even smooch, as if it
had been rubbed over and over. I wonder how it
was done, and who did it and what they did
it for? Round and round and round, round and round
and round. It makes me dizzy. I really have discovered

(10:13):
something at last, through watching so much at night when
it changes, so I have finally found out the front
pattern does move, and no wonder the woman behind shakes it. Sometimes.
I think there are a great many women behind, and
sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her
crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright

(10:34):
spot she keeps still, and in the very shady spots
she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard,
and she is all the time trying to climb through.
But nobody could climb through that pattern. It strangles, So
I think that is why it has so many heads.
They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off

(10:55):
and turns them upside down and makes their eyes white.
If those heads were covered or taken off, it would
not be half so bad. I think that woman gets
out in the daytime, and I'll tell you why. Privately,
I've seen her. I can see her out of every
one of my windows. It is the same woman I know,

(11:15):
for she is always creeping as most women do not
creep by daylight. I see her on the long shaded lane,
creeping up and down. I see her in those dark
grape arbors, creeping all around the garden. I see her
on the long road, under the trees, creeping along, and
when a carriage comes, she hides under the BlackBerry vines.

(11:36):
I don't blame her a bit. It must be very
humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight. I always lock
the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do
it at night, for I know John would suspect something
at once, and John is so queer now that I
don't want to irritate him. I wish she would take
another room. Besides, I don't want anybody to get that

(11:57):
woman out at night, but myself. I often wonder if
I could see her out of all of the windows
at once, but turn fast as I can. I can
only see out one at a time, And though I
always see her, she may be able to creep faster,
but I can turn. I have watched her sometimes away

(12:18):
off in the open country, creeping as fast as a
cloud shadow in a high wind. If only that top
pattern could be got off from the under one. I
mean to try it. Little by little, I found out
another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time.
It does not do to trust people too much. There
are only two more days to get this paper off,

(12:40):
and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don't
like the look in his eyes. And I heard him
ask Jenny a lot of professional questions about me. She
had a very good report to give. She said, I
sleep a good deal in the daytime. John knows I
don't sleep very well at night. For all, I am
so quiet. He asked me all sorts of questions too,

(13:00):
and pretended to be very loving and kind, as if
I couldn't see through him. Still, I don't wonder he
act so sleeping under this paper for three months. It
only interests me, But I feel sure John and Jenny
are secretly affected by him. Hurrah. This is the last day,
but it is enough. John is to stay in town

(13:22):
overnight and won't be out until this evening. Jenny wants
to sleep with me, the sly thing, but I told
her I should undoubtedly rest better for a night all alone.
That was clever, for really, I wasn't alone a bit
as soon as it was moonlight, and that poor thing
began to crawl and shake the pattern. I got up
and ran to help her. I pulled, and she shook,

(13:44):
and I shook, and sheep polled, And before morning we
had peeled off yards of that paper, a strip about
as high as my head and half around the room.
And then when the sun came and that awful pattern
began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish
it today, but not before we finished the last ad break,
which is now. We go away tomorrow, and they are

(14:21):
moving all my furniture down again to leave things as
they were before. Jenny looked at the wall in amazement,
but I told her merrily that I did it out
of pure spite the vicious thing. She laughed and said
she wouldn't mind doing it herself, but I must not
get tired. How she betrayed herself that time. But I
am here, and no person touches this paper but me

(14:43):
not alive. She tried to get me out of the room,
it was too patent, but I said it was so
quiet and empty and clean now that I believed I
would lie down again and sleep all I could, and
not to wake me even for dinner. I would call
when I woke, so Now she is gone, and the
servants are gone, and the things are gone, and there
is nothing left but that great bedstead, nailed down with

(15:05):
the canvas mattress we found on it. We shall sleep
downstairs tonight and take the boat home tomorrow. I quite
enjoy the room now it is bare again. How those
children did tear about here? This bedstead is fairly gnawed.
But I must get to work. I have locked the
door and thrown the key down into the front path.

(15:27):
I don't want to go out, and I don't want
to have anybody come in till John comes. I want
to astonish him. I've got a rope up here that
even Jenny did not find. If that woman does get
out and tries to get away, I can tie her.
But I forgot I could not reach far without anything
to stand on. The bed will not move. I tried
to lift and push it until I was lame, and

(15:49):
then I got so angry. I bit off a little
piece of one corner, but it hurt my teeth. Then
I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing
on the floor. It sticks horribly, and the pattern just
enjoys it. All those strangled heads and balbous eyes and
waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision. I am getting
angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out the

(16:10):
window would be admirable exercise, but the bars are too
strong to even try. Besides, I wouldn't do it, of
course not. I know well enough that a step like
that is improper and might be misconstrued. I don't like
to look out the windows even There are so many
of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I
wonder if they all come out of the wallpaper as

(16:30):
I did. But I am securely fastened now by my
well hidden rope. You don't get me out in the
road there. I suppose I shall have to get back
behind the pattern when it comes night, and that is hard.
It is so pleasant to be out in this great
room and creep around it as I please. I don't
want to go outside. I won't even if Jenny asks

(16:52):
me to. For outside, you have to creep on the ground,
and everything is green instead of yellow. But here I
can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just
fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I
cannot lose my way. Why there's John at the door.
It is no use, young man. You can't open it.
How it does call and pound. Now he's crying for

(17:14):
an axe. It would be a shame to break down
that beautiful door. John dear, said I, in the gentlest voice.
The key is down by the front steps under a
plantain leaf. That silenced him for a few moments. Then
he said, very quietly, indeed, open the door, my darling.
I can't, said I. The key is down by the

(17:36):
front door, under a plantain leaf. And then I said
it again several times, very gently and slowly, and said
it so often that he had to go and see.
And he got it, of course, and came in. He
stepped short by the door. What is the matter, he cried,
for God's sake, what are you doing? I kept on
creeping just the same, But I looked at him over

(17:58):
my shoulder. I've got out at last, said I, in
spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most
of the paper, so you can't put me back now.
Why should that man have fainted? But he did, and
right across my path by the wall, so that I
had to creep over him every time. That's the end

(18:21):
of the yellow wallpaper. The story, and so I want
to talk about the story really quick. Clearly I really
like it. It really sticks in my mind, you know,
much like the wallpaper itself. It's actually fairly effective how
much it captures that experience. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author.

(18:43):
She herself spent three months on rest cure, which is
what this is called, this way of torturing women where
you tell them that they're not allowed to do any
work or creative pursuits and that they have to lay
in bed with and it's not it's a different thing
than when people require bad rest because of physical injuries.
You know. She was forbidden from writing and doing things

(19:03):
in order to cure her from postpartum depression. After three
months of that, she was like, you know what, fuck this,
I'm not fucking doing this. And then a little bit
later she wrote the Yellow Wallpaper about her experience, and
she sent it to the doctor who had told her
to do this whole rest cure thing, basically as a
fuck you. He ended up like continuing to go on

(19:24):
to you know, set up institutions for the rest cure
to cure women or whatever. But what Charlotte did she
went and found a woman doctor instead, which is hard.
You're talking about the eighteen nineties, right, eighteen eighties maybe,
And this woman doctor was like, you know, maybe when
you're depressed, like exercise and meeting people and stuff like

(19:46):
that is better for you than the rest cure. And
lo and behold it was, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman got better.
There was this thing that people talked about a lot
at the time, hysteria, which honestly truly basically means women
having opinions. The disease and the cure was submission to men,

(20:07):
submission to society, submission to patriarchal society. Like it was
a medicalized thing. Rest cure was about submission. It was
a way too, you know, stop being nervous because you
just accept that you don't have any control over your
own life. That's bad, but you probably didn't need. My
subjective opinion about that probably came to a similar conclusion,

(20:29):
dear listener. I've read some scholarly stuff about this. This
story gets taught a lot in schools and things like that.
I tend to disagree with most scholars of literature when
they look for like intense symbolism in every story. I
think that symbolism is sometimes intentional. I mean, like obviously

(20:50):
there's like there's a woman behind the paper, it's the bars,
you know, Like that's not very subtle, right, But overall,
I would argue that symbolism is generally created in the
sort of primordial goo of writing. And Okay, the example
I want to use, I listen to a lot of
black metal, and black metal is frankly one of the
genres of music that is closest to white noise. Right.

(21:11):
It is a lot of very heavily distorted things that
blend into each other and tend to have low production values.
And the thing is that you can hear phantom melodies
inside black metal, and these were not written, They're generated
by the noise. And I think most symbolism works that way.

(21:33):
I think most symbolism it's real in that we imagine it,
but it wasn't put there. It comes out of the
creation itself, which I really like thinking about because I
think it's like metas shit, because it acts like the
yellow wallpaper, right, the patterns in the noise become meaningful

(21:54):
and matter, And I think symbolism itself is the patterns
in the noise. And if you think too much about them,
they drive you crazy. I don't think that's what the
story is about. It's not about symbolism, but it's absolutely
about how if you stare at the wall long enough,
you'll go fucking crazy. And I don't read too much
into it as like you don't need a symbolism representing patriarchy.

(22:15):
The story itself, the actual prison she is in is
the patriarchy, right. I spent the first year and a
half of COVID living in a tiny cabin in the woods,
and after months of isolation, I would stare at the
rafters and I would swear they were moving, and I
would swear that the way that they related to each
other would change, you know, and that they were trying

(22:36):
to tell me something. And actually, one of the things
I would remind myself is I was like, I've read
the yeah, fucking yellow wallpaper. I know it's fucking happening,
And so I don't think this is like a symbolic description.
I think that this is an accurate description of what
Charlotte herself experienced under her patriarchal rest cure diagnosis. Yeah,

(23:00):
the effects of the yellow wallpaper are just the literal
description of what it feels like to be laid up
like that. Anyone who knows me and my history stuff
from my podcast cool People did cool stuff, saving myself
the plug at the end by doing it here knows
that I love drawing spurious red yarn connections on the
Great Wall of History, you know, like that meme the

(23:22):
guy with the red yarn. That's me. And so I'm
going to say. In eighteen ninety two, Gilman published The
Yellow Wallpaper, and this is one of the first weird tales,
like weird fiction tales in American literature, after Egar Allan Poe,
who had been writing about fifty years earlier. But this
like slow descent to madness type thing. Right. Three years later,

(23:44):
Robert W. Chambers published his book The King in Yellow,
which is another weird fiction classic, and it is generally
seen as a direct precursor to the most influential horror
author of the twentieth century, HP Lovecraft, whose whole thing
was cosmic horror and the slow descent into and his
whole other thing was being a racist piece of shit.
But that's beside the point. So you got The Yellow Wallpaper,

(24:06):
and then a couple years later you got The King
in Yellow. Why is yellow in both of them. I
think it's because of the influence on one on the other.
There's a few people mentioning this in various places, but
it's a little bit spurious. But in which case I
can be like, oh, HP Lovecraft, cosmic car all that
shit comes out of a real good writer who spent

(24:26):
three months locked up on rest cure. I'm not locked up,
but you know, like stuck in bed on rest cure.
I'm not the only person to draw this connection, but
I love that Lovecraft's whole thing. If you felt like
you could say it was birth by a woman dealing
with patriarchy. And Lovecraft himself did praise the Yellow Wallpaper

(24:48):
decades later, and an essay he wrote in the nineteen twenties,
and the family named Gilman appears in two of his stories,
and that may or may not be a coincidence. Or
you can stare at the wall of red yarn and
realize that behind it there's a woman and she's trapped there.
Maybe you are that woman, maybe you're trapped behind the
wall of redyarn, or maybe it's me. I'm the woman.

(25:11):
I'm just going to end the episode now. Next week
I'll be back with another story for a cool Zone
Media book club. Thanks for listening 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

(25:34):
for It could Happen Here, updated monthly at coolzonemedia dot
com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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