<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b><i>Desires, Matings, and Couples</i></b> <p> <p> Only one girl of many. Of the street. In lowest depths. The story grows unmeet For wellbred ears. Sorrow and sin and shame Over and over till the blackened name Sank out of sight without a hand to save. Sin, shame, and sorrow. Sickness, & the grave. Only one girl of many. Tis a need Of man's existence to repeat the deed. Social necessity. Men cannot live Without what these disgraceful creatures give. Black shame. Dishonor. Misery & Sin. And men find needed health & life therein. <i>Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "One Girl of Many" (1884)</i> <p> <p> SEXUALITY WAS central to Gilman's feminism. If the term "sexuality" itself was a future category, designating erotic life, practices, customs, and identities, she constantly addressed sexualized institutions and meanings. Her earliest verses concerned the two central sexual contracts, marriage and, as in "One Girl of Many," prostitution, both published in early 1884 just before her wedding to Stetson. Gilman analyzed the rise of androcentric culture through the sexual subjection of women, advancing, thereby, distinct perspectives on "the sexual"—its past, present, and desirable future in a human world. Her views of sexual subjection had diverse origins, drawn not only from her own erotic life but also from her contemporaries' debates about sexuality. <p> In this first chapter, I examine Gilman's intimate young adult relationships as they inflected her feminist theories, centering on her courtship, marriage, and separation from Stetson. In addition to biographies, most commentary on her personal life is found within literary Gilmaniana, dominated by her much reprinted short story, "The Yellow Wall-paper" (1892), a text often read as autobiography, recounting her 1887 month of "the rest cure," a prepsychoanalytic treatment for depression. Scholarly readings are diverse. Many adhere to Gilman's later stress on the rest cure in her leaving both husband and conventional motherhood—that is, to the neglect of the conjugal context for Gilman's rejection of her marriage. The intimately sexual impetus for her feminist analyses in her troubled relationship with Stetson needs attention. More than the rest cure, her difficulties with Stetson precipitated her arrival at feminist discourses on heterosexual relations, prostitution, reproduction, and birth control. If today her sexual thought seems foreign, hastily presentist rejection of her thinking as prudish needlessly obscures the core and founding impact of "androcentric" sexuality within her feminist theories. <p> <p> <i>Resting the Rest Cure</i> <p> For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous mental breakdown tending to melancholia—and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went ... to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. The wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with the solemn advice to "live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours of intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again as long as I lived." This was in 1887. I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the border line of utter mental ruin that I could see over.... I wrote <i>The Yellow Wallpaper</i> ... and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it. <i>Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "Why I Wrote 'The Yellow Wallpaper'" (1913)</i> <p> <p> Gilman retrospectively constructed her treatment with the rest cure as the turning point of her life. Her recollection of near insanity at being denied an intellectual life impelled her to act. "The Yellow Wall-paper," which centered on a woman's subjection to the rest cure—discussion of which dominates Gilmaniana—dramatized her case for radically altering her life. Many scholars are mesmerized by the mid-twenties Gilman subjected to Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell's 1880s rest cure and by the thirty-year-old author of its chilling fictionalization. <p> The story is a first-person account of a new mother and wife of a doctor installed in the nursery of a New England mansion rented for the summer for the rest cure—that is, isolation, nutrition, sleep, and no exercise. With her sister-in-law Jennie caring for the baby and household, and husband John's tender commands whenever home from "town," the narrator becomes intensely introspective. Obsessing about the sulphurous stained wallpaper dominating the derelict upstairs nursery to which she is confined, she becomes convinced that the paper moves, that its bulbous shapes represent eyes and faces, infants and women, that finally a woman is imprisoned in it, trying to escape. The unnamed narrator's progression into paranoia and derangement, marked by her locking the door and frantically attempting to tear off the wallpaper to free the woman behind it, is met by husband John forcing the door open. He faints at the sight of his demented wife crawling round and around the perimeter of the nursery. <p> As a riveting Gothic, Poe-like tale of Victorian marriage and madness, scholars frequently read Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-paper" as autobiography, her "rest cure" with Dr. Mitchell central in feminist readings of Gilman. Susan Lanser suggests that American feminist literary criticism launched itself through analytical canonization of the story and, thereby, of Gilman. Nor was such recognition undue. Her sensational tale about medical science, misogyny, and women's struggles to be cultural producers and critics is also a terrifying narrative of horror and madness, providing ample justification for its place in the American literary canon. <p> Literary critic Elaine Hedges rightly notes, though, that changing readings of Gilman's story map shifts with changing feminist preoccupations. Initial commentary stressed its critique of patriarchal medicine, personified in the unnamed narrator's patronizing husband, John, taken as Dr. Mitchell. If some read the woman's descent into madness as resistance to domination, others regret resisting patriarchal oppression only at the price of madness. Meanwhile, psychoanalytic critics hold that Gilman's mother's inadequacies traumatized Gilman's own maternity. Unequal to baby Kate's demands, Gilman resented the vampirish extraction of all her waking energy by the small and noisy creature. Thus, the poor narrator of "The Yellow Wall-paper," relieved of the infant and now herself infantilized, is locked in a nursery and confined to a nailed-down bed, where she is fed. The yellow of the wallpaper symbolizes infantile urine projection, venting rage at her mother. For some critics, Gilman explored desires, rejection, and anger with her male relatives for their sex privileges and cruelties. Moreover, others reject the speaking position assumed by the narrator and presented to the sexed reader, while a further body of critics frame their interpretations in the light of current concerns with race, ethnicity, postcolonialism, and sexual diversities. Recently, some have urged moving critical focus onto Gil man's much less unconscious and more material protest against "the yellow press." <p> Commentary on the vast corpus of literary criticism here is beyond the scope of this study, but two features of it matter for understandings of Gilman's feminism: first is the tendency to read the story in relation to Gilman's biography and second is the assumption that the rest cure and Dr. Mitchell's treatment of her fundamentally grounded Gilman's bid for emancipation and a career. These features repay scrutiny alongside other women's experiences of the rest cure and alternative interpretations of Gilman's biography and self-representation. <p> <p> SCHOLARS COMMENTING on "The Yellow Wall-paper" often take its key elements as the genealogy of her feminism, ignited by the rest cure. During her unhappy childhood and adolescence, in which she moved constantly with her brother and mother from house to house of relatives, kind friends, and cooperative living experiments, her abandoned mother aggravated Gilman's misery by becoming a repressive, controlling, and bitter sole parent, frustrating her daughter's ambitions and assigning her relentless domestic work. With bleak teenage years in Rhode Island relieved only by student gentlemen callers, the highlight of young Charlotte Perkins's life was her intimate friendship with Martha Luther, to whom she wrote passionate lover-like letters, so much so that she later speculated on the scandal they might cause if ever discovered. Then, with Luther's marriage to Charles Lane in 1882, the bereft Gilman allowed the attentions of one suitor, the painter Stetson, to end in their May 1884 marriage, against her better judgment. <p> The birth of a child came just over nine months later, followed by her complete mental breakdown. Her distress dominated the marriage, leading her, in April 1887, to Dr. Mitchell's rest cure in Philadelphia. The supposedly misogynist doctor prohibited any further intellectual life, at least according to Gilman's retrospective 1913 and 1935 accounts. In those portrayals she invited readers to understand this prescription as the cause of her near madness, proving that she was unsuited to the conventional domestic life represented by that month-long medical treatment. The rest cure, and rebellion against it, unleashed her path to independence and feminism. <p> Gilman rarely mentioned "The Yellow Wall-paper" relative to her other work. Since in her lifetime <i>Women and Economics</i> (1898) was easily her most acclaimed work, its popularity led to interest in all other works by Gilman. So along with her 1893 poetry collection, <i>In This Our World</i>, her gothic short story, too, was republished. But, apart from a short 1913 note in her journal the <i>Forerunner</i>, "Why I wrote 'The Yellow Wall-paper," and a few later letters, it is Gilman's 1935 autobiography that depicts the rest cure as the launch or turning point for her career. Her heroism in surviving to contribute so much to feminist theory elicits commentators' admiration and identification and, thereby, a somewhat uncritical acceptance of her account, a tendency noted by Denise D. Knight. <p> Literary canonization of "The Yellow Wall-paper" led to feminist debate over Mitchell and the rest cure. Initially, Mitchell was cast as a hostile sadist seeking to confine intellectual and otherwise "uppity" women. Yet scores of educated women sought his treatment. If he expected that most women would be wives and mothers, evidence shows that he supported patients making other choices. The cure was first formulated for Civil War veterans, thus not originally a misogynist treatment. Admittedly though, as Jennifer Tuttle demonstrates, the male version of treatment could involve the quest for lost or diminished manhood by sojourns into cowboy fantasies at Western ranches, while women restored their domestic femininity. <p> Other activist women had contrasting experiences with Mitchell's "rest cure," including, according to Gilman, two of her female Beecher relatives. He also treated Jane Addams, founder of Hull House. Addams mentioned her 1880s treatment in terms rather different from Gilman's: <p> The winter after I left school [1882–83] was spent in the Women's Medical College of Philadelphia, but the development of the spinal difficulty which had shadowed me from childhood forced me into Dr. Weir Mitchell's hospital for the late spring, and the next winter I was literally bound to a bed in my sister's house for six months.... The long illness inevitably put aside the immediate prosecution of a medical course, and although I had passed my examinations credibly enough in the required subjects for the first year, I was very glad to have a physician's sanction for giving up clinics and dissecting rooms and to follow his prescription of spending the next two years in Europe. <p> <p> Mitchell also treated Harriet Russell Strong (1844–1926), a Californian feminist, suffering from a degenerating back condition and marital problems for several months in 1886. Harriet Strong praised Mitchell for restoring her health and vigor, which grounded forty more years of feminist public work. She was but one of many women for whom rest, and removal from the domestic circumstances of the breakdown, offered relief in a prepsychoanalytic era. This treatment could enhance their sexual-politics bargaining position in conflicted marriages. <p> The principally literary focus of most commentaries on "The Yellow Wall-paper" gives scant attention to Gilman's use of both Dr. Mitchell's rest cure and the writing of the story three years later to justify her subsequent actions to critics, relatives, and friends. If feminist literary scholars "launched" themselves, vindicating their efforts through the story, the same may be true of its author. For everything she became, and for which she was denounced in the Californian and New England press—"an unnatural mother," divorcée, "libertine," essayist, lecturer, reviewer, political delegate, scholar, novelist, poet, and more—Gilman needed a persuasive explanation. She bore an undiminished grudge against "yellow journalism," which targeted her with unfair publicity during her separations and final divorce from Stetson. <p> The rest cure itself is overemphasized as the genesis of Gilman's feminism and work as a public intellectual. A month of "agreeable treatment," as she later described the regime at Mitchell's practice, arguably was minor among the factors that launched her feminist career. Compelling evidence warrants putting the rest cure to rest. <p> In what Carolyn Heilbrun has labeled a "moratorium," Gilman called a crisis, a halt to the path her life was supposed to follow with marriage to Stetson. Her advance letter of explanation of her case to Dr. Mitchell and her 1935 autobiography carefully omits admission of tension, arguments, emotional violence, cruelty, or other marital offenses, either on her or Stetson's part. Later she claimed that one momentous fact hijacked her life's direction: her mind broke at age twenty-four and was never in full repair again. A victim of fate, she was a dutiful, self-sacrificing victim, finally persecuted by the rest cure. With regret, as she explained to her readers, she was compelled to terminate her marriage and individual motherhood. This depiction understates the extent of Gilman's active agency and resistance at the time. She was an ambitious and creative woman caught on the wrong side of her culture's customary sexual division of labor. When writing her autobiography in the 1920s, a frustrated Gilman, deprived of the audiences and readers that she had enjoyed since her thirties, sought safe scapegoats for the constraints on her life's achievements. <p> At the same time, once Gilman's divorce was final in 1894, Stetson married her close friend, Grace Ellery Channing and the couple took custody of the child, which permitted Gilman to pursue her peripatetic 1894–1900 lecturing career. In 1911 Stetson died in Italy as a poor, but increasingly celebrated American artist. Meanwhile, Channing-Stetson's raising of Kate substantially made Gilman's career possible, and she continued in a pivotal role in Gilman and her daughter's world. Later living alone in New York, Channing-Stetson became financially and emotionally dependent on Gilman and her new husband, George Houghton Gilman. Moreover, by the 1930s, Kate, who had replicated her birth mother's pattern by marrying an impecunious artist, also relied on her mother and stepfather. Unmistakable tension existed between all parties involved during the thirty-four years of Gilman's second marriage and her public fame. Gilman needed to explain her decisions, to reconnect, first with her daughter and, then, her grandchildren. These ongoing relationships checked any negative public account she might have given of Stetson's contribution to her 1880s breakdown. Indeed, she deflected attention from their 1884–87 conjugal conflicts, recorded by each of them at the time. <p> Hence, Dr. Mitchell and the rest cure functioned in Gilman's narrative as justification for her abandonment of marriage and embrace of the career of social reformer and public intellectual in the Beecher family tradition. Her claim that Mitchell instructed her to abandon entirely intellectual, scholarly, or professional life was intended to enlist readers' admiration at her resistance. By whatever means necessary, she had to fulfill her destiny as a writer and reform advocate, even at the sacrifice of relinquishing custody of her daughter. One biographer notes that Gilman "used" her confrontation with Mitchell to "begin her liberation," by allowing her "to deny her father's power sufficiently to be able to heal herself." However, in view of Gilman's completion of her first book during this period of dramatic psychological collapse, Knight asks directly whether she was really as ill as she later claimed she had been. Ironically, as Ann J. Lane reports, once Gilman finally left Stetson for Pasadena, her recovery strategy was rest. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Feminism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman</b> by <b>Judith A. Allen</b> Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.