• 14Aug

    “A frank, intimate, urgent voice.” (Maggie O’Farrell)

    I have just finished reading the collection of short stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman titled after the first short story

    “The Yellow Wallpaper”

    Written in 1890

    yellow wallpaper

    I was amazed at how this short story has resonance for me, as a woman, in 2014.
    The story is assumed to be autobiographical and describes a young married woman who is suffering from “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”.
    As a result she, her husband (John) and her husband’s sister (Jane) spend some time in a rented house in the country. She is mostly confined to the upstairs bedroom with yellow wallpaper. The young woman becomes fascinated and obsessed with this ugly, yellow wallpaper, which in many ways symbolizes the oppression under which she lives.
    Her husband is a medical doctor and takes control of his wife and her illness. He has legitimate patriarchal power. He confines her to the bedroom and she is told to have complete rest. She is forbidden to do any work, including her beloved writing.

    “He is careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.”

    As a result she is forced to write secretly. Writing stories she is informed by her husband will stir up “all manner of excited fancies”.
    Despite her initially desire to please and obey her husband, we learn of her frustration and anger with his oppression and control of her…

    “The fact is I am getting a little afraid of John”.

    And the sister-in-law’s role is that of monitoring her – the role of all good patriarchal women. She is … “so careful of me.”

    As Anne Summers (Damned Whores and God’s Police) highlighted these are the women who are placed in the position of being the moral guardians of the community – to ensure that women follow the patriarchal line.

    Damned whores

    Maggie O’Farrell writes in her introduction to the book this is an angry story:

    “…fury crackling off the page”.

    It is the writer’s relationship with the yellow wallpaper that is so creatively told. She begins to see things in the wallpaper that nobody else can and a woman begins to emerge.

    “It is like a woman stooping down and creeping behind that pattern” and the woman becomes many women… “…trying to climb through”.

    This story is about oppression – the oppressive nature of marriage and power and control of men over women.

    It is also about mental illness. According to Maggie O’Farrell, Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself suffered some form of mental illness following the birth of her child. It is suggested that we may now know this as post natal depression. Charlotte was also forced to go through draconian treatment similar to the woman in her story where she is virtually imprisoned and not permitted any activity including writing.

    Phyllis Chesler wrote a ground breaking book in 1972 (revised in 2005) “Women and Madness”

    phyllis cheslerin which she documents how women are labelled as “mad” when they do not comply with the feminized norm or are unable to cope with the effects of patriarchal domination – and the harrowing treatment that has been imposed on women in the name of healing. There are many examples of this treatment of women throughout history – mad or bad – and it continues today.

    The uplifting aspect of this story is the powerful ending.

    She locks the door and peels off the wallpaper.

    “’I’ve got out at last’, said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back.”

    “What the Yellow Wallpaper does is give the mad woman pen and paper, and ultimately a voice of her own” (Maggie O’Farrell)


  • 10Jul

    Just finished reading this lovely book.27.Ruth Ozeki-A Tale For The Time Being

    It is written from two perspectives. One from a woman, Ruth living on an island off the West coast of Canada.

    And the other from a young Japanese woman, Nao Yasutani

    The book has many themes – but it is a book essentially about relationships.

    The main relationship is the one that Ruth has with Nao, as she reads her diary when it washes up on the Canadian beach.

    Whilst Nao is writing of the trauma of her life, and those around her, Ruth is drawn into concern and worry about her.

    And in this is reflected Ruth’s own life, rather simple but very much part of the here and now on this lonely Canadian island.

    This is where we discover her connection with her environment and the impact of global issues on it. Which makes this book also an environmental book.

    Nao’s story is also centred on the people in her life. Her father  Haruki #2, who is depressed and suicidal after losing his job.

    Nao herself is depressed and suicidal as a result. She is also subjected to very cruel bullying from her classmates.

    But she is a young woman with strength and humor – someone who we care about.

    But it is  her great grandmother Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun, who delights us and who centres Nao.

    The Zen Buddhist theme throughout the book imbues the book with  a gentle, philosophical and sympathetic perspective.

    The story of  her great uncle Haruki #1, who was a kamikaze pilot in WW2 is also very interesting. An anti-war novel as well.

    This book has beauty and warmth. And one that I will want to read again.

    Jiko’s last words:   

    生 – to live
    “For now…for the time being.”

    I also like this quote in Appendix C: Rambling Thoughts

    “The day the mountains move has come.

    Or so I say, though no one will believe me.

    The mountains were merely asleep for a while.

    But in ages past, they had moved, as if they were on fire.

    If you don’t believe me, that’s fine with me.

    All I ask is that you believe this and only this,

    That at this very moment, women are awakening from their deep slumber.

    If I could but write entirely in the first person,

    I, who am a woman.

    If I could write entirely in the first person,

    I, I.

    Yosano Akiko – These are the first lines from Yosano Akiko’s longer poem (Rambling Thoughts) which were first published in the inaugural issue of the feminist magazine Seito (Bluestocking), in September 1911.


  • 21Jun

    Of course, the first on this list has to be ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee.

    This is a book that has sat on my bookshelf since I was in my 20’s. I have had several different copies of it and I read and re-read it at least every couple of years.
    It is beyond me to truly encapsulate this book. There is no way I could do justice to the depth and beauty of this book.
    I love the gentleness, humanity and thoughtfulness of it. It is told in a child’s voice but with an adult’s understanding of the experiences of this child.
    Who could not love Scout, Jem and Atticus, so truthfully brought to life by the film starring Gregory Peck, who will always symbolize Atticus for me.
    And the relationship between Scout and Jem is realistic and warm. And Atticus the moral, sincere and compassionate father.
    I love the part where Scout is having problems adjusting to school, particularly when she is told that Atticus should not be teaching her to read and so Atticus makes a “compromise” with her.
    “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll go on reading every night just as we always have.”
    The book explores complex issues in the small American country town of the South in the depression years of the 1930’s.
    The poverty and hardship of those in the town is described with empathy.
    It also deals with the racism of the American South of the 1930’s with tragic results – and Atticus’ attempt to challenge this racism.

    There have so many outstanding and poignant moments:

    – When Scout turns back the lynch mob by recognising one of the mob:
    “Hey Mr. Cunningham. How’s your entailment gettin’ along?”

    – The moment when Tom Robinson says he feels sorry for a poor white girl – his undoing for no African American can feel above a white person

    “…a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman…”

    – And the scene when the Court case is over. Tom Robinson has been found guilty.
    “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” As the whole of the African American in the balcony stand as he walks out.

    And who can forget the pivotal role of Boo Radley – their reclusive neighbour who is initially feared as the ‘bogey’ man but who ends up protecting and saving the children –

    “Neighbours bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbour. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives.”

    And Scout fully understands the need to protect him from public scrutiny.

    “Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”

    “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”