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Welcome to our very first case study!
I shall dust off my (almost entirely useless) History BA and share with you the story of a woman who shared her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, with the world, and change the treatment for postnatal depression (called postpartum depression in some parts of the world) forever.
Born Charlotte Perkins in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1860. She’s know for being a writer, commercial artist, magazine editor, lecturer and social reformer.
In terms of publishing, she’s known for poetry collections, novels, nonfiction, and short stories.
She’s also known as a feminist, even giving lectures on topics around women an equality for almost 50 years across America and Europe.
Travelling from America to Europe during the late 19th century was increasingly popular, but by no means commonplace due to how expensive it would have been to do so. This goes to show how popular she was.
Her fiction, both short stories and novels, contains women who were more than just the stereotypical idea of women at the time – stay at home mums, women of the house, not much in the brain department—and instead portrayed them as fully fledged people.
Spoiler alert: women are fully fledged people.
But they were seen as lesser than men at the time.
Although Charlotte mostly supported the ideas that Darwin was sharing at the time, she did speak out against his use of the term ‘female mind.’
‘There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of the female liver.’
Despite how famous she became, and how good her work is, she didn’t actually come from a place of high education.
Her schooling was sporadic, only amounting to about a total of four years.
But I imagine she learned a lot when she was spending time with her great aunts.
As her father abandoned the family when she was quite young, Charlotte and the rest of her family would spend a lot of time around her father’s aunts; Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—an anti-slavery novel, and Catharine Beecher, an educator.
Despite her lack of formal education, she went on to be rather a prolific writer and feminist.
School really isn’t everything.
Which brings us onto The Yellow Wallpaper
This book was published under her first married name, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, and is largely based on her experience of postnatal depression from the child of that marriage.
Charlotte experienced postnatal depression when she had her child, Katharine.
While she had had some issues with depression in the past, it was much worse after the birth of her baby, almost descending into psychosis and suicidal thoughts.
The advice that she received from her doctor was to: ‘Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time… Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours’ intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.’
The famous ‘rest cure.’
She did try this method, but found that it really wasn’t working for her. And in fact made her worse.
Are you surprised!?
Five years later she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.
The main character, who isn’t named, is instructed by her husband, who is also her physician, to do nothing. The same rest cure that Charlotte was given.
She is wasting away the hours in the nursery staring at the wallpaper and, with little to no other stimulation, slowly starts to see things. Such as ‘an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions.’
This continues getting worse, even to the point where she thinks she sees a person moving behind the wallpaper.
I won’t tell you any more as I don’t want to spoil the ending and want to encourage you to read it yourself.
But her psychosis is caused by being told to sit around and do nothing, medical advice that was not helping her one bit.
After her story became popular, opinions did slowly change around the rest cure and prescribing it for cases of postnatal depression.
Even those not in the field of medicine would have started to change their opinion about whether or not women were so simple that all they needed to fix their pretty little brains was a dose of mundane for a few weeks.
Today, the general advice for those suffering from postnatal depression is to exercise, eat right, make time for yourself, accept help, and talk about it.
Women during the late 19th century weren’t encouraged to talk about their problems.
But today, people experiencing postnatal depression can get therapy and even medication if they need it. It’s important to ask for help when you need it.
We’re big believers in asking for help when you need it here at The Writer’s Cookbook.
Firstly, school is not the most important thing.
Look how much Charlotte was able to do with a total of about four years in school.
Secondly, your work can have a huge impact.
If you are writing something that is controversial, but perhaps could be for the greater good, then people will be against you. But Charlotte Perkins Gilman is just one example of how your writing can have a positive impact in the world.
The same goes for the other end of the scale, even if you only touch one person. That’s one person’s life that you have changed.
And lastly, never give up writing, even when everyone around you is literally telling you that you are crazy.
Okay, if you’re here reading this right now, perhaps it’s unlikely that you are certifiably crazy.
But your writing career will most likely be packed full of people who try and deter you, or tell you that you’re mad for pursuing this dream of yours.
You have to believe in yourself.
Because more often than not, no one else will be there to do that for you, or being working against you.
So prove them wrong.
Sometimes that’s the best part.