Review: The Yellow Wallpaper ~ Charlotte Perkins Gilman

yellow wallpaperISBN ~ 978-0914061168
Publisher ~ Orchises Pr
No. Of Pages ~ 16 pages
Links ~ Gutenberg Project, Amazon

First published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. In the involuntary confinement of her bedroom, the hero creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper–a pattern that has come to symbolize her own imprisonment. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, “The Yellow Wallpaper” stands out not only for the imaginative authenticity with which it depicts one woman’s descent into insanity, but also for the power of its testimony to the importance of freedom and self-empowerment for women.

4 Thumbs-UpIf Henry James and his The Turn of the Screw is an example of gothic horror at its best, then this extremely short novella has to be an example of how the subject of descent into madness can be written about without it becoming long winded and overly graphic.

The characters in this novella expertly reflect the role of women during the late 19th century and their position in the male dominated society in which they live.  Written in the first person, this short read is the diary of a woman’s descent into madness courtesy of the ‘I’m the man, I know better attitude’ of her Husband.  Only to be expected in a piece of writing of this length, no time has been wasted on giving complex back stories to the main character and her husband, which adds to the sheer desperation the reader feels coming out of the page as they read.  No hint is to be given as to what kind of a woman would allow herself to be so crushed and dominated by the whims of one single person and, because of this, it is rather easy for a female reader to instil their own sense of indignation into their readings, not taking into consideration the differences in societal norms that are acceptable in the 21st versus the 19th century.

At first read it is easy to miss the impact this piece of writing has on the reader; it appears choppy and has no obvious flow to it which for some readers may be cause enough for them to disregard it as being badly written.  However, due to its short length, it deserves to be re-read and then mused upon.  Yes it is choppy but we are reading the writings of the descent into madness, and in this it takes on a kind of brooding presence that lingers with the reader long after they have the closed the back cover.  If raw chaos could be described I would say it was in the wallpaper, and the way in which the mind can draw the most damming of things out of simple objects comes into play here.  What I did find interesting, and an example of how the novella had made me think was that after reading it for the second time I watched several film shorts based on it, each being different in their interpretation of the words, but all having one thing in common; the chaos brought into one woman’s life by the wallpaper.

If you have an hour to spare and are not sure what to do with it, or don’t want to start reading a long novel, may I suggest you take a look at this.  Whether or not you enjoy reading it will be based on how you interpret the words but one thing I can guarantee is that you will not forget it in a hurry.

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Review: The Turn of the Screw ~ Henry James

turn of the screwISBN ~ 978-0140620610
Publisher ~ Penguin Books
No. Of Pages ~ 120 pages
Links ~ Penguin, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant, oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate…An estate haunted by a beckoning evil.

Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent, foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls…

But worse-much worse- the governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil.

For they want the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.

4 Thumbs-UpNo one seems to do gothic horror and be able to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up as well as Authors from this era; whether they are hinting at insanity or embracing it and giving it coffee, this novella has to rank up there with The Yellow Wallpaper.  When the reader first embarks into this tale it would seem the perfect accompaniment to a cold winter night and a cosy fire-place, after all it’s short in length and reads fairly quickly if you can come to grips with the style in which it is written, but don’t make any assumptions about this book.

The main character is also the narrator for the tale, and the reader sees the whole sequence of event unfold through her eyes.  In the main lead, the reader is introduced to a character who definitely does not know herself and shows no signs of getting to know herself as the tale progresses.  As we view the world through her eyes the reader is her companion as she descends into madness; or does she, and this is where one of the many twists enter the tale and have the reader wondering.  At times I felt sorry for this character, at others she just grated on me to no end, this I put down to the time period in which the book is set and not the fact the fact that the character was badly written.  In fact none of the characters in this novella are badly written, and each brings their own flaws and traits to play as the storyline unfolds.

This book is definitely ‘old school’ horror genre, rather than being in your face gory and ghastly, an atmosphere is created in this novella that is suggestive and lends itself perfectly to being able to scare the stripes off a zebra.  Eerie and creepy descriptions are used to full effect in this tale and, although only a mere 120 pages long, I found myself getting up and turning a light on part way through.  All the requirements of a truly good ghost story are included in the covers of this novella, and the fact that the reader’s imagination is able to hold full sway over the way in which they react to the occurrences.  I have to say this is one of the better pieces of writing by this Author that I have read, and if it had been a few pages longer it would have received a full 5 thumbs review.

If you are looking for a truly good ghost story to fill your holiday season, but not overtake it completely then I would highly recommend you read this novella.

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