What to Read after "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Published in 1892, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has left a lasting impression on readers interested in feminism and mental health. While Gilman’s is one of the better-known stories about women, mental health and their treatment in western society, many authors have also approached the subjects before and since its publication. Check out the titles below to get started and begin on a path toward more literature about feminism, women and mental health throughout history and the world.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Swept away to the Manderley Estate by the charming Maxim de Winter, the new Mrs. de Winter isn’t too sure about her new home. There’s the surly housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who seems stuck on Mr. de Winter’s previous wife, and mystery shrouding the death of the first Mrs. de Winter. The unnamed narrator is not sure what to believe, and sometimes wonders if she is perhaps going mad -- or if, rather, she is surrounded by madness -- as the plot ramps up into a hurricane of horror. Rebecca shares an atmosphere, tone and treatment of women with “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Tired of a reclusive life driven by her mother’s disability, Eleanor responds to a newspaper ad requesting assistance in the exploration and study of a house rumored to be haunted. When she arrives, she meets the scholar Dr. Montague, along with his wife and her companion, the artist Theodora, and the house’s heir, Luke. As the days and nights wear on, each of the house’s inhabitants begin to experience strange phenomena. However, hard evidence is scarce, and it’s unclear how imagination may or may not influence the characters. Like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” The Haunting of Hill House has a strong sense of place and a creeping sort of horror that urges the reader on, despite the impending dreadful events. Readers will also find commentary on women and agency.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
A companion piece to Charlotte Brontë’s famed Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea describes the events leading up to Bertha’s domestic imprisonment. Known as Antoinette in her earlier years, the book’s main character experiences a number of personal tragedies. As Antoinette is forced into becoming Bertha and begins her involvement with Mr. Rochester, her own mental well-being suffers -- but how much of it is the nature of her brain and what is caused by her circumstances? Taking place within forty years of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Wide Sargasso Sea makes for a fascinating comparison to the short story in how things had or had not changed by the late 19th century.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
A memoir and later a film starring Winona Ryder, Girl, Interrupted tells the story of Susanna Kaysen, who was treated at the McLean Hospital (also known for treating Sylvia Plath and Ray Charles) for borderline personality disorder. With both a narrative and actual documents from her two-year stay at the psychiatric hospital, Kaysen describes her experience in staccato chapters. Set against the backdrop of the 1960s, Girl, Interrupted profiles many of the other young women at McLean, consequently hitting on many of the same themes present in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas
Like thousands of other girls, Koren Zailckas began her relationship with alcohol at an early age. Though not necessarily an alcoholic by definition, with retrospect, Zailckas explores the dangerous and dependent way she treated alcohol as a young woman and how alcohol intersected with her experience of being a woman in America. Zailckas revisits some of her darkest days, from experimentation to waking up in a stranger’s home with no memory of how she got there. This personal and dark memoir will remind readers of the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” with a striking tone of reality.
Feminist Literary Theory and Criticism: A Norton Reader by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
From the authors of The Madwoman in the Attic (which explores “Victorian literature from a feminist perspective”), Feminist Literary Theory and Criticism samples from feminist writers beginning with Christine de Pizan of 1405 and through Chandra Talpade Mohanty in 2003. Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides insight to her famed short story with “Why I Wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’" within the text. Readers will find the many other essays -- both from first hand and literary criticism perspectives -- provide an excellent context for “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Part mental health memoir, part medical mystery, Brain on Fire offers a first-hand look into one young woman’s terrifying experience with a swift decline of mental health. After Cahalan wakes up in a hospital bed, not knowing how she got there, she is thrust into a journey of relearning herself and coming to terms with her new reality: “violent,” “flight risk,” “psychotic.” A personal narrative like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Brain on Fire is a true story told by investigative New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan.
The Drum Tower by Farnoosh Moshiri
“When I was crazy and the winds of the world blew in my head, I lived in the basement of our old house, Drum Tower.” So begins the story of Talkhoon, a mentally ill sixteen-year-old during the Iranian Revolution. As her family members experience challenges of their own, Talkhoon wrestles with the winds in her head and chronicles the fall of the Drum Tower. Despite the implications of her family’s past, Talkhoon endeavors to escape it and that which plagues her internally. As a book of vignette-like chapters and with a focus on mental health and women, The Drum Tower finds fans in those who enjoyed “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties introduces readers to a series of mostly-women narrators often placed in strange and terrifying situations. In one story, borrowing from a folktale sometimes known as “The Green Ribbon,” Machado writes of a woman with a foreboding ribbon around her neck. In another, a disease sweeps through the country and a woman increasingly isolates herself to avoid infection. With each story, Machado delves into the weird and psyches of women with a feminist perspective, much like Perkins’s approach in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
Melting fantasy and reality together in this collection of poems, Lovelace examines her life, often imagining herself as a sort of princess combating the evils of the world. As Lovelace inspects the various relationships in her life through poetry, the reader gains not only a sense of Lovelace’s history, but of the common themes many women experience in their younger years. Like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Lovelace’s look at the frequent struggles of women paired with a fantastical take arrests the reader into examining their own life.