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Though many details are changed, the story is semi-autobiographical, drawing on Gilman’s own health crisis and particularly her fraught relationship with Dr Silas Weir Mitchell – who carved a reputation for treating nervous exhaustion following his experiences as a Civil War doctor – and who was brought in to treat her in 1886.In Gilman’s own words, he drove her to “mental agony” before she rejected his treatment and began once again to write. The narrator is brought by her physician husband to a summer retreat in the countryside to recover from her “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”.Hilary Marland does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Not all doctors condemned women for their ambition – many advocated more rounded lives embracing intellectual and physical pursuits alongside domestic roles.
Other patients treated by Mitchell, including the critic and historian Amelia Gere Mason and writer Sarah Butler Wister, tailored their treatments to suit their lifestyles, with Mitchell encouraging their intellectual and creative pursuits.
Mitchell instructed Gilman to live as domestic a life as possible “and never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live”.
It is the wallpaper that dwells increasingly on the narrator’s mind with its “vicious influence”.
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The Yellow Wallpaper is a feminist short story by Charlotte Perkins- Gilman.
“City-bred” women, Mitchell concluded, might be poorly equipped to fulfil the natural functions of motherhood.
Gilman was treated with the “rest cure”, devised by Mitchell, as is the protagonist of the story; like an infant, she was dosed, fed at regular intervals and above all ordered to rest.
For Gilman, her divorce proceedings, rare enough at the time to be announced as a “scandal” in various American newspapers, began in the same year as The Yellow Wallpaper was published, and she became increasingly active in the women’s movement.
Writing years later about the short story, Gilman described how it was written to celebrate her narrow escape from utter mental ruin.