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  • "The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Dual-Text Critical Edition
  • Beth Sutton-Ramspeck
"The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Dual-Text Critical Edition. By Shawn St. Jean. Athens: Ohio Univerity Press, 2006.xxiv, 120 pp. Illus. Index. $42.95; 21.95.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's best-known work, "The Yellow Wall-Paper," first appeared in 1892, in the New England Magazine. In 1998, Julie Dock provided an authoritative edition of the story, with a thorough examination of the many variants and flagrant errors among editions subsequent to 1892 ("The Yellow Wall-paper" and the History of Its Publication and Reception [University Park: Penn State Press]). Dock did not, however, collate the holograph manuscript in the Gilman papers at the Schlesinger Library; that was transcribed in 1994 by [End Page 263] Denise Knight for her edition of the "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Newark: University of Delaware Press). Knight's transcription scrupulously retains even the "accidentals" of the manuscript: spelling, punctuation, indentations, and so on. Shawn St. Jean completes the process of integrating this manuscript with Gilman scholarship printing the manuscript and magazine versions side by side to facilitate comparison—hence the "dual-text" of his book's title. In addition, St. Jean includes a facsimile of the New England Magazine pages.

One of the most useful aspects of St. Jean's edition, particularly as a potential student textbook, is its summary of editing theories and the application of competing theories to the problem of evaluating the different texts of "The Yellow Wall-Paper." St. Jean recounts the history (told more fully by Dock) of the story's publication, which apparently transpired without Gilman's having corrected page proofs for "errors missed or introduced by the compositors setting type" or by the editors (xv)—and without her receiving payment. However, it need not necessarily follow from this that the Schlesinger manuscript represents Gilman's own final revision, as St. Jean assumes. To be fair, St. Jean does acknowledge the argument that the New England Magazine version was set in type from a lost, presumably subsequent manuscript, but this view is relegated to footnotes (pp. xxiii, 98).

In the standard manner of scholarly editions, St. Jean's edition features a genealogy of substantive variants among the manuscript, the 1892 New England Magazine version, and the slim 1899 book published by Small, Maynard. A unique feature is the genealogy of accidental variants (spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing) between the manuscript and New England Magazine versions. St. Jean argues persuasively that, with this story, the usually-overlooked accidentals create "deep and essential . . . cumulative differences between the two texts" (9). There are, for example, an astonishing 111 discrepancies in paragraph breaks between the two versions. St. Jean acknowledges what Knight and Dock have pointed out, that Gilman's paragraphing in her manuscripts is "open to interpretation" (10). Whatever the causes, the New England Magazine version contains ninety more paragraphs than does the manuscript. This discrepancy, as Knight argues in her essay in the volume, makes the magazine version's narrative far more fragmented, and thus "the narrator's disjointed thought pattern is both distorted and exaggerated" (74).

St. Jean maintains that his book demonstrates "how the interpretive process is significantly affected by variants" (xii), and accordingly, the second part of the book, entitled "Dueling Interpretations," collects four previously unpublished essays, each privileging one or the other version of the story. The essay most likely to interest readers of American Periodicals is Catherine J. Golden's "Speaking a Different Story: The Illustrated Text," which focuses on what Jerome McGann has [End Page 264] called the "laced network of linguistic and bibliographic codes" in the original New England Magazine version. Golden does close readings of the ornamental capital "I" that begins the story, the rows of asterisks separating each section, and the three illustrations, all of which, she notes, were probably outside Gilman's control. Golden argues that the illustrations, especially the final picture of the narrator, with long, loosened hair, creeping over her unconscious husband, helped solidify the story's participation in the Poe horror tradition, though the same picture may suggest to...


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