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^His and Hers: Mental Breakdown as Depicted by Evelyn Waugh and Charlotte Perkins Gilman Stephen L. Post One noveUa, one short story; two fictional excursions into insanity. Both are autobiographical. We know this of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper from other information; Evelyn Waugh's The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold opens with a third-person introduction of that novella as a description more or less of the author's own experience.1 Both protagonists experience delusions and haUudnations as extemalizations of intolerable inner states. Both are in anguish. This said, one thinks of the differences. Gilman's "I" comes increasingly dose to identifying the ominous skuDdng figure in the waüpaper as hersetf, while for Pinfold the source of trouble is perceived from beginning to end not as self but as other, although the disturbance itself is finally acknowledged as his own. One charader (Pinfold), supported by a loving wife, gets better; the other, misunderstood and neglected by her husband, gets worse. The stories read differently: Pinfold is succinctly and matter-of-factly descriptive; Wallpaper is in first-person diary form, desperate and searching . Pinfold is frankly and fascinatingly paranoid, while Gilman's young mother experiences tones of emotion to match the varying shades of the wallpaper—tearfulness, depression, suspidon, and, hidden away, anger. Unlike Pinfold, Gilman's persona, while remaining self-effadng, convinces us that whatever paranoia she experiences is not without basis: as the saying goes, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Lacking the support she needs, she deteriorates. Yet in her deepening possessedness one can sense a determination to understand : although her illness may be the greater, her openness to experience suggests a capadty for the greater cure. Pinfold, by contrast, returns to Literature and Medidne 9 (1990) 172-80 © 1990 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Stephen L. Post 173 a status quo ante, buttressed mainly by knowledge that insurrection by an unconsdous cast of characters has been quashed and their images destroyed. Otherwise he is not much changed. Gilman's heroine may be physically trapped in a room, but he, while physicaUy free, remains trapped in a shallow sanity of ritual and rules. Pinfold, indeed, is like a diagnostic detective story: fascinating but lacking in depth—or, more accurately, disavowing depth. There is anguish in this illness, the latter declaring itself in the form of auditory halludnations —a jazz band, then, later, voices—experienced by Pinfold in his stateroom throughout a voyage undertaken for his health. But behind the anguish lies a deeper agony denied by the protagonist and, outwardly, the author, who hopes only to "amuse" us. We shall oblige him, at least to begin with, by joining the "looney dodors" in attempting a superfidal, patient-distant neuropsychiatrie diagnosis. First of all we note an onset of physical symptoms, marked espedally by joint pains. These wiU persist until the outburst of frank psychosis, during which they wiD disappear, leaving us to infer that they were somatic harbingers, or equivalents, of that psychosis. Then we become further aware that, prior to the joint pain and Dr. Drake's gray piUs, there has been insomnia for twenty-five years, treated for the past five with chloral and bromide, and, also within the past five years, physical deterioration secondary to inactivity and increasing alcoholism. Add to this Pinfold's disregard of dosages prescribed, plus his acceptance of more sedatives from Dr. Drake without informing him of his existing prescription, and we have the makings of a toxic mess. On top of what may have been corticosteroid medication for rheumatism or fibrositis, or some other remedy for gout, if s a tribute to Pinfold's constitution that he is eventually cured rather than killed. "Poison" is an apt word for it. And for Dr. Drake, who describes the abusive hallucinatory figures as typical for misuse of chloral and bromide, that diagnosis is suffident. But not for Mr. Pinfold, who realizes that in vanquishing his unwelcome cast of charaders he has won some sort of battle and that had he not won it, the voices would not have been totally expunged from his psyche. Let us look, then...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 172-180
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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