With Her in Ourland: Sequel to Herland (Contributions in Womens Studies)
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Rationally aware of possible conflicts between self-development and love, she was largely unprepared to meet the complex unconscious as well as deliberate patterns of socialization which forced most women to accept self-sacrificing love as natural, inevitable, and right.
Drawing from conflicting signals of her mother, Mary Perkins, Charlotte knew that women could achieve a modicum of independence, but always at a price. Mary Perkins was a divorced and eventually self-supporting woman, nourished and sustained by a female network of friends and relatives; her nonconformity strengthened Charlotte's capacity for independence.
But suffering from the stigma of divorce, from economic hardship, from the guilt and emotional insecurity of her single lifestyle caused her, Mary quickened Charlotte's fear of spinsterhood. Both parents had also unwittingly encouraged Charlotte's independence by withholding their affection. Mary Perkins had denied caresses to her daughter: "I used to put away your little hand from my cheek when you were a nursing baby," Mary told Charlotte in her later years.
A contemporary psychologist, Alexandra Symonds, discussed symptoms in her recent patients quite similar to those that Charlotte was beginning to exhibit. The women Symonds treated were active, vital, and self-assured before their marriages. Yet they were also often women who had to "grow up in a hurry. Symonds suggests a frequent pattern: "They repressed their healthy needs to be taken care of and repressed the child in them as well.
Perhaps, as Symonds puts it, she desired "to put down a tremendous burden which she had been carrying all her life, and be the dependent little girl she had never been before. I thank thee for this heavenly happiness! There were commonly expected roles of men and women in marriage that both Charlotte and Walter accepted. As a man, Walter was expected to provide for his family. He did not have to choose between marriage and his work. In fact, marriage lent further purpose to his artistic growth and creative efforts. Charlotte, by contrast, felt a momentous change occurring in her life.
Formerly self-supporting, independent, and career-oriented, she found herself involved with time-consuming domestic chores which conflicted with the work she loved—painting and writing. Within a week, some spontaneous rebellion seemed to be occurring. She wrote in her diary, "I suggest he [Walter] pay me for my services; and he much dislikes the idea.
I am grieved at offending him; mutual misery.
Bed and cry. Although the personal dynamics of Charlotte's relationship with Walter remain elusive, sexual experiences may have contributed to her growing discontent. At times Charlotte viewed sexuality with traditional Victorian prudery: "Purity," she wrote in , "is that state in which no evil impulse, no base thought can come in; or if forced in dies of shame in the white light.
Purity may be gained by persistent and long continued refusal to entertain low ideas. On June 15, , she noted: "Am sad: last night and this morning. Because I find myself too—affectionately expressive. I must keep more to myself and be asked—not borne with.
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Soon Charlotte was pregnant, a condition which lessened her physical and emotional stamina. Even after the birth of Katharine Stetson in , Charlotte wrote in her diary, "Every morning the same hopeless waking … same weary drag. She was assuming what Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has referred to as those "character traits assigned to women in Victorian society and the characteristic symptoms of nineteenth-century hysteric: dependency, fragility, emotionality, narcissism.
She wrote, Walter "would do everything in the world for me; but he cannot see how irrevocably bound I am, for life, for life. No, unless he die and the baby die, or he change or I change, there is no way out.
I could not read nor write nor paint nor sew nor talk nor listen to talking, nor anything. I lay on that lounge and wept all day. The tears ran down into my ears on either side. I went to bed crying, woke in the night crying, sat on the edge of the bed in the morning and cried—from sheet continuous pain.
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I made a rag baby, hung it on a doorknob and played with it. I would crawl into remote closets and under beds—to hide from the grinding pressure of that profound distress. In writing her autobiography, Charlotte described her "mental illness" as a disease beyond her understanding, an accidental misfortune. Suffering from recurrent depressions, she continued to believe that causes for her suffering lay not in the personal or political conflicts of her life, but in idiosyncratic weaknesses within herself. The price she paid for nonconformity was guilt, despite the fact that almost all of her feminist writings were inextricably related to her life, and despite the fact as well that her short story , "The Yellow Wallpaper" was itself a feminist-oriented autobiographical portrayal of insanity.
In "The Yellow Wallpaper," an "hysterical woman," overprotected by a loving husband, is taken to a summer home to recover from nervousness, and told to rest and sleep and try to use her "will and self-control" to overcome her miseries. The room her husband John assigns to her is covered with a yellow-patterned wallpaper.
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But "it does weigh on me so not to do my duty in any way! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous. He "does not know how much I really suffer.
With Her in Ourland: Sequel to Herland (Contributions in Women's Studies)
He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him. John offers tender love, but enforces the inactivity which deepens her despair. I "am absolutely forbidden to 'work' until I am well again. The first stage of the breakdown is one of self-blame. The woman follows the doctor's orders and tries to stop the fantasies that people tell her are unreal. When a physician of "high standing" assures "friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?
Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper.
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She separates herself from the perception of others, and when in a climactic scene her husband faints, she crawls over his body and says, "I've got out at last … in spite of you! There, the separation from Walter Stetson is portrayed as resulting from her individual weaknesses, or equally simplistically, from a mismatched marriage. She was not inclined publicly or explicitly to indict loved ones in her life. Yet in "The Yellow Wallpaper," she presented insanity as a form of rebellion, a crucial turning point toward independence.
Only in a fictional version of her illness would she publicly express her anger: "I've got out at last … in spite of you. On April 18, , she wrote:. I am very sick with nervous prostration, and I think some brain disease as well. No one can ever know what I have suffered in these last five years. Pain pain pain, til my mind has given way. I asked you a few days only before our marriage if you would take the responsibility entirely on yourself. You said yes.
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Bear it then. Although Charlotte often faced uncontrollable depressions during the bleak years of , fortunately a determination to trust her own abilities remained. In part, she benefited from a visit in California with Grace Channing and her family in the winter of In this supportive atmosphere she regained a measure of her former self-confidence.