Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events
Reprinted from Oxford University Press   Date: 11/18/10 Bookmark and Share

Wild Unrest: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Making of The Yellow Wall-Paper

In Wild Unrest, Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz offers a vivid portrait of Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the 1880s, drawing new connections between the author's life and work and illuminating the predicament of women then and now.

The Yellow Wall-Paper captured a woman's harrowing descent into madness and drew on the author's intimate knowledge of mental illness. Like the narrator of her story, Gilman was a victim of what was termed "neurasthenia" or "hysteria"—a "bad case of the nerves." She had faced depressive episodes since adolescence, and with the arrival of marriage and motherhood, they deepened. In 1887 she suffered a severe breakdown and sought the "rest cure" of famed neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Her marriage was a troubled one, and in the years that followed she separated from and ultimately divorced her husband. It was at this point, however, that Gilman embarked on what would become an influential career as an author, lecturer, and advocate for women's rights.

Horowitz draws on a treasure trove of primary sources to illuminate the making of The Yellow Wall-Paper: Gilman's journals and letters, which closely track her daily life and the reading that most influenced her; the voluminous diaries of her husband, Walter Stetson, which contain verbatim transcriptions of conversations with and letters from Charlotte; and the published work of S. Weir Mitchell, whose rest cure dominated the treatment of female "hysteria" in late 19th century America. Horowitz argues that these sources ultimately reveal that Gilman's great story emerged more from emotions rooted in the confinement and tensions of her unhappy marriage than from distress following Mitchell's rest cure.

Wild Unrest adds immeasurably to our understanding of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, uncovering both the literary and personal sources behind The Yellow Wall-Paper.


"A convincing, absorbing, and perceptive book."—Publishers Weekly

"Wild Unrest is enthralling. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a brilliant, passionate, self-divided young American woman, prone to depression. Here is the powerful story of how she became a great American—one who could find both love and her life's work." —Catharine R. Stimpson, New York University

"With brilliant psychological and literary insight, Wild Unrest probes the conflicts between love and work that defined Charlotte Perkins Gilman's early adult life. The book will forever change our understanding of Gilman's most disturbing, and justly famous, work of fiction."—Elisabeth Israels Perry, author of Belle Moskowitz: Feminine Politics and the Exercise of Power in the Age of Alfred E. Smith

"An erudite, accessible, and timely tale of an extraordinary woman, whose words and deeds, in Horowitz's deft hands, lay bare the contours of passion, power, suffering, and medicine in a critical chapter of American life."—Andrea Tone, Canada Research Chair in the Social History of Medicine

"An intelligent provocative read."—Louise Gleason, Worcester Women's History Project


DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z