Synopses & Reviews
"There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver."--Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), a leading figure in the women's movement of the early twentieth century, is a pillar of the American feminist canon. This edition of her work includes her best-known story, "The Yellow Wall-paper," a terrifying tale about a woman driven to the brink of insanity by the "rest cure" she is ordered to follow by her doctor to relieve her postpartum depression. Also included is a wide range of other short stories; an abridged version of her little-known but brilliant utopian novel, Herland, about a peaceful all-female world; and selections from her landmark treatise, Women and Economics, first published in 1898 to universal acclaim.
Known primarily for her classic story "The Yellow Wallpaper", Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a vastly influential feminist and sociologist in her day. Gilman is a pillar of the American feminist canon, and this edition will include selections from her fictional works, including her little-known but brilliant novel Herland, as well as selections from her non-fiction writing, including her landmark treatise Women and Economics.
Reading Group Guide
1. At the turn of the twentieth century, women suffering from depression, mood disorders, or mental illness-what was then termed "hysteria"-were often prescribed long periods of bed rest. This was not a treatment usually prescribed for men suffering from the same symptoms. Why do you think doctors prescribed this therapy only for their female patients? Can you think of any diseases today that are "gendered"? Do you think it is significant that the room with the yellow wallpaper was once a child's nursery?
2. On the last page of "The Yellow Wall-paper," Gilman writes: "'I got out at last,'said I, 'in spite of you and Jane.'"Who do you think Jane is? And who is the "I"?
3. In her 1935 autobiography, Gilman wrote, "The one predominant duty is to find one's work and do it." How do the characters' concepts of "duty" in "The Cottagette" and "Mr. Peebles' Heart" inform their work? What role does music play in both of these stories?
4. What do you think Gilman thought of the relationship between mental activity and physical activity? What associations does she see between activity and health?
5. In "If I Were a Man," Gerald concludes that "women have their limitations, but so do we, God knows." Would you argue that this is a "sexist" comment? Why or why not?
6. What do you think the physical location and climate of Gilman's female utopia in Herland signify? What does Gilman communicate to the reader about women's place in society, and their relation to men?
7. Why do you think Gilman chose a male narrator for Herland? What stereotypes of women do Van, Terry, and Jeff hold when they arrive in Herland? How do their opinions change throughout the novel?
8. In Women and Economics, what are Gilman's suggestions for improving the status of women, both financially and culturally? How do you think readers in 1898 might have argued against Gilman's ideas?
9. Alexander Black writes in "The Woman Who Saw It First," which introduces this volume and was first published in 1923, that "so much of [Gilman's] preaching that was once regarded as revolutionary is now a matter of polite consideration, if not practice, that her total effect is no longer so sharply radical as it was to the generation to which we look back." Do you agree that Gilman's views are no longer radical? In what ways do you think she would be heartened by the state of women's rights today? In what ways do you think she would be disappointed?