Sunday, June 6, 2010

a pairing: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Francesca Woodman

This post pairs an excerpt from the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935) with photographs by Francesca Woodman ( April 3, 1958 - January 19, 1981).

The Yellow Wallpaper is a story about a woman "(the narrator) and her husband/physician (John), who have rented an ancestral house for a summer. John prescribes for the narrator a "rest cure"... Isolated in her room and completely inactive except for her writing, the narrator becomes transfixed by the grotesque wallpaper that surrounds her. She projects herself into the patterns of the paper and imagines a feminine figure... The feminine shape escapes from the wallpaper's intricate web and is seen "creeping up and down" in the courtyard. In the final scene of the work, the narrator, who has seemingly lost her mind, tears off the wallpaper and crawls and "creeps" ... across the floor and over John, who has collapsed lifelessly after seeing his wife wriggling and writhing on the ground." (quote)
"I really have discovered something at last.

Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.

The front pattern does move - and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!

Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern - it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!

If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad.


Francesca Woodman, House 4, Providence, 1975-76

Francesca Woodman, House 3, Providence, 1975-76


I think that woman gets out in the daytime!

And I'll tell you why - privately - I've seen her!

I can see her out of every one of my windows!

It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.

I see her on the long road under the trees, creeping along, and when a carriage comes she hides under the blackberry vines.

I don't blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping by daylight!

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can't do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once.

And John is so queer now, that I don't want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don't want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself.


Francesca Woodman, Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands, Providence, 1976

Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, 1975-76



I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once.

But turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time.

And through I always see her, she may be able to creep faster than I can turn!

I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind."

source for quote from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: That Kind of Woman: Stories from the Left Bank and Beyond, edited and introduced by Bronte Adams and Trudi Tate, published by Virago Press Limited, London, © 1991; source for photographs: Francesca Woodman: Photographic Works, the Woodman Estate and Shedhalle Zurich, published by Distributed Art Pub Inc © 1992.



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