Friday, December 4, 2009

The Yellow Wallpaper and My Other Viragos



I've been ignoring my Viragos lately. I haven't read one for a while and I've been feeling guilty about it. About a year and a half ago I started collecting Virago Modern Classics. VMCs are books published in celebration of  frequently neglected women writers mostly from the early part of the twentieth century. I love the green-spined versions with beautiful cover art, most of which are now out of print. I currently own 62 Viragos which I acquired through bookmooch, through the wonderful Virago group at Library Thing and through the internet. They're not available where I live and I've had to rely on trips abroad to find them. Last summer, I drove Mr.B. nuts because I wanted to stop at every second hand bookstore in Amsterdam. But I must say, there is a certain thrill in finding these little green-spined books. And if you're wondering...no, I didn't purchase every Virago I saw. There are surprisingly a lot in Holland.

I'm ashamed to say though that of the Viragos I own, I've only read 15. There have been some duds among them but there have also been some marvelous discoveries. The ones that standout are The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, Mary Lavelle by Kate O'Brien, A Woman of My Age by Nina Bawden, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin, Good Behaviour by Molly Keane and All Passion Spent and No Signposts by the Sea by Vita Sackville-West.

I now have a new Virago to add to that list,  the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It's such a slim little novella at 37 pages that I finished it in one sitting. It's a powerful and chilling masterpiece about a woman forced into confinement in the upstairs nursery of an isolated house. The room has barred windows and yellow wallpaper with a maddening pattern. We see her slowly go insane from idleness and lack of mental stimulation. She spends her days staring at the yellow wallpaper which winds itself into her mind and slowly drives her insane.

"I believe and follow that pattern about by the hour. It is as good as gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we'll say, at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and I determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion."

Highly recommended. A chilling portrait of a the helplessness of a woman trapped in a Victorian marriage.

Have you read this? What did you think? Do you like Virago Modern Classics and if so, which ones did you like best?

23 comments:

  1. As you know I LOVE Virago modern classics, and I've read all on your list except the von Arnim - I have yet to read any of hers. I did think that the Yellow Wallpaper was exceptional! I'd be interested to know which other ones you own.

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  2. I love Virago Modern Classics though I own too few of them it has to be said. I will never get over not buying a copy of Rachel Ferguson's The Brontes Went to Woolworths when I saw a Virago copy, that will haunt me forever.

    I have The Tortoise and The Hare and The Yellow Wallpaper, along with many other of her stories, on the TBR pile. Must get round to them.

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  3. I love The Yellow Wallpaper. I think Charlotte Perkins Gilman is amazing for having made the story so ominous in such a seemingly harmless setting. Brrr.

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  4. @verity - you can see my entire collection on LT. I'd be interested to know which ones you recommend.

    @savidgereads - oh, you must tackle those books soon especially the Tortoise and the Hare! I can imagine passing up the Brontes book will haunt you forever. They're impossible to find or otherwise shockingly expensive.

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  5. There are so many great little publishers (or branches of larger publishers) that sometimes I find it hard to keep track... thank goodness for book bloggers! I wasn't aware of VMC's modus operandi, but as they seem to have a similar aim as Persephone, I'm automatically intrigued! I haven't read any of their books (that I'm aware of - certainly not in recent years), but doing a quick perusal on Amazon, I see that this can be easily rectified! Hurrah!

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  6. I do love VMCs. I have only read maybe 10 or so of them over the years. I have never really sought them out, but the ones I have read I have really liked. And I remember that my first one was Vita Sackville-West's All Passions Spent. I read it in 1992 when I was living in London.

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  7. I think the story IS a classic and I remember reading it and doing a paper on it in the mid-1980's in college. We sure have it better these days--eg., the "patch" and antidepressants.

    Also, I had never heard of Virago modern classics so thanks for that!

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  8. I read this one just the other day, I suppose I'll write about it soon. I agree with you about it being chilling though I found it interesting that the narrator didn't seemed to be chilled.

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  9. I confess this is a new to me writer-thanks so much for sharing this-if I come upon it I will buy it.

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  10. The Yellow Wallpaper is indeed extraordinary. And don't feel too bad about having unread VMCs - they're special enough to save for just the right moment. that's my excuse anyway!

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  11. @steph - Persephones and Viragos have many similarities. In fact, there are some books that have been published by both.

    @MDeniseC - I agree...obviously the protagonist was suffering from post-natal depression but they clearly didn't know about this condition at the time.

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  12. I LOVE this bog of yours Mrs B!! Thanks for dropping by my food blog...i too have been toying with the idea of starting a book/reading/writing blog but I seem to be tied down with the food blog. I can't make up my mind ...lol...I love baking and photography too but I have a feeling i love writing and reading just as much if not more...

    This is the first time Ive heard about virago modern classics. And in this particular review you made me really need to read this book. Do you think they sell copies of these on amazon.com? yes I know I can check...:)) and I certainly will. Tq . this is a great blog but dont give up the food blog..thats fantastic too.

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  13. Are you counting this as one of your Women Unbound reading challenge books? It's a classic of women's studies.

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  14. What a great collection! This book sounds great-- something to keep an eye out for, most definitely. I went to Amsterdam last summer, too! :)

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  15. Omgosh why have I never been here? I always go to your other blog. This is so neat. I wonder what else I've been missing.

    Laura

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  16. I love Virago, I think for a lot of readers in the UK they changed the way we thought of women writers, I know they changed my reading habits for life. I believe Virago have not long reprinted a collection of Charlotte Perkins Gilman short stories which I'm looking out for.

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  17. @Bonnie Jacobs- No, I didn't include this for the Women Unbound Challenge. I listed my books before I actually had this one. It's certainly a perfect choice for it.

    @zurin & the cooking photographer - It's so nice that you guys dropped by! I might still keep the food blog but won't post as often.

    @Desperate Reader - VMCs have definitely changed my reading habits. I love collecting them!

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  18. Hi, Mrs. B! I bought my first Virago Modern Classics yesterday at PowerBooks -- Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn. I love that they include the author's signature in the inside front and back covers!

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  19. The Yellow Wallpaper, now that's a story that stays with you--if only for the image of the "creeping women" all over the hillside. Chills.

    I remember arguing in a paper that the woman's descent into madness was not just a response to her imprisonment, but also her only way of gaining some semblance of "freedom" in her situation-- partly by identifying with the "creeping woman" being freed from the walls.

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  20. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is one of that handful of stories that never leaves you. There are plenty of great, satisfying stories in literature, but not many that are so unsettling.

    I've often wondered if this story was an inspiration for the Polanski film "Repulsion"--not so much in plot details but in the portrayal of a mind becoming unhinged.

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  21. @Anonymous - I've never seen Repulsion. I really must see it!

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  22. Wow, Virago and Persephone have such dedicated followings! I should get on those two! I have a copy of All Passion Spent... somewhere. I can't find it at the moment! I don't know if I have a Virago edition, either.

    I really liked this story. I think if you liked it, you should look into The Awakening and especially Wish Her Safe at Home (which I am pushing on EVERYONE, I know). The books have similar themes and are fascinating to compare.

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  23. I just posted on this story-it can be read on line for free at Dailylit.com-great review on your part

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