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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

New Texts, New Contexts

Edited by Jennifer S. Tuttle and Carol Farley Kessler

Publication Year: 2011

During her lifetime, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) was a popular writer, public speaker, and social reformer whose literary interests ranged from short stories, novels, and nonfiction philosophical studies to poetry, newspaper columns, plays, and many other genres. Though she fell into obscurity after her death, there has been a resurgence of interest in Gilman’s works among literary scholars. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: New Texts, New Contexts represents a new phase of feminist scholarship in recovery, drawing readers’ attention to Gilman’s lesser-known works from fresh perspectives that revise what we thought we knew about the author and her work. Volume contributors consider an array of texts that have not yet enjoyed adequate critical scrutiny, including Gilman’s short fiction, drama, and writing for periodicals, as well as her long fiction. Similarly, incorporating careful archival, biographical, and historical research, contributors explore Gilman’s life and writings—including her most famous story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper”—through strikingly new critical lenses. Other essays included here assess Gilman’s place in a longer historical trajectory and within multiple rhetorical traditions, from the genre of feminist humor to the canon of African American women’s literary production.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. v-vi

The editors would like to thank the Maine Women Writers Collection and the University of New England (UNE) for hosting the conference “Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Then & Now,” June 2006; their support, along with the cosponsorship of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Society and the rich intellectual contributions of the conference participants, provided the impetus for this ...

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pp. 1-24

A central concern for scholars of U.S. women’s writing has been the recovery of lost or unread texts, a process well exemplified by recent work on Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers (26.2 [2009]), critics participating in a roundtable discussion assess the successes and failures of recovery ...

I. Biographical & Critical Overview

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1. “that pure New England stock”

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pp. 27-43

In September 1922, American author and lecturer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) escaped what she characterized as the “hideous city” of New York with her second husband, Houghton, and relocated to the “dignity and beauty and peace” of Norwich Town, Connecticut, where she would spend the next twelve years. In contrast to the “nerve-wearing noise— the dirt—the ugliness, the ...

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2. Looking Backward

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pp. 44-65

“Looking backward” to the political activism of second-wave feminism offers a way to review the enduring contributions of Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the early twenty-first century. Gilman might well approve of this approach given her appreciation of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 Looking Backward, 2000–1887, a utopian romance that influenced parts of her best-known feminist utopian novel, Herland (1915).1 In the later 1960s ...

II. New Texts

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3. The Torn Voice in“The Giant Wistaria” and “The Unnatural Mother”

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pp. 69-84

Phyllis Rose suggests: “Often the most radical perspective you can adopt on a person’s experience is his or her own. . . . Each of us, influenced perhaps by one ideology or another, generates our own plot, our own symbolic landscape, a highly individual configuration of significance through which we view our own experience and which I call a personal mythology” ...

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4. An “Absent Mother”

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pp. 85-102

As many scholars have found, Gilman throughout her fiction and nonfiction advocated measures to liberate women from the constant responsibilities of childcare through the creation of “baby-gardens,” where trained professionals could nurture children throughout the day while mothers pursued their professions. Though Gilman’s scenarios of outsourced and ...

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5. Turning “The Balsam Fir” into Mag—Marjorie

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pp. 103-121

Few of the American literary women whose work has been resurrected over the past four decades went as far out of their way to discount the aesthetic value of their own writing as Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Looking back on a remarkably prolific and fertile career, Gilman made a point of belittling “such small sense of art as I have,” differentiated herself from ...

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6. “The Same Revulsion against Them All”

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pp. 122-139

In the summer of 1914, just as the Great War was about to end, still no universal suffrage had been enacted in the United States. The national suffrage movement was battered by a deep-pocketed campaign against Amendment XIX to the Constitution and was wearied by the foolish inconsistencies of the anti-suffrage arguments. Articles, speeches, and meetings by those on ...

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7. Doing It “man-fashion”

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pp. 140-157

Unpunished (c. 1929), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s posthumously published whodunit, poses some challenges for the reader. Having spent much of her life promoting women as agents of evolutionary change and practitioners of life-giving motherhood, in Unpunished Gilman gives us a story about murder at the hands of a woman and mother named Jack. More, ...

III. New Contexts

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8. “There are things in that paper thatnobody knows but me”

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pp. 161-179

In 1888, an urbanite mischievously named Frangipani Soot2 wrote a letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel lamenting one of the overarching effects of early industrialism, smoke: “It penetrates our houses, it befouls the atmosphere, spoils everything, benefits nothing. . . . My clothes are dirtied by this smoke. I swallow it. It fills my eyes, chokes my bronchial tubes. It ...

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9. The Yellow Newspaper

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pp. 180-199

In November 1909, Charlotte Perkins Gilman began publishing The Forerunner, the monthly periodical that she wrote and edited for the next seven years. Its mission, as she describes it, is to “stimulate thought; to arouse hope, courage and impatience”; and to “express ideas which need a special medium” (“As to Purpose”). She opens the first issue of The Forerunner ...

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10. The Madwoman’s Other Sisters

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pp. 200-221

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” the nineteenthcentury narrator, effectively locked in an attic suite of a colonial mansion as a part of her treatment for neurasthenia, suffers a psychic collapse. She is fed to indulgence, forced into a state of physical idleness, socially isolated, and forbidden to do what she loves most—write. Her husband teases her with ...

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11. Feminist Humor and Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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pp. 222-249

The exchange was made famous on the cover of Ms. Magazine in November 1973. A male comic book character asks, “Do you know the women’s movement has no sense of humor?” A woman replies, “No, but hum a few bars, and I’ll fake it!”1 More than three decades after that cartoon first appeared, the relationship between feminism and humor is still a contested ...


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pp. 251-253


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pp. 255-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270745
E-ISBN-10: 0814270743
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211441
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211445

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2011