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^Madness and Medicine: The Graphomaniac's Cure Pamela White Hadas I. Superfluous Angels and Necessary Theaters: Is There a Doctor in the Text? It stiU strikes me as strange that the case histories I write should read Uke novelettes and that. . . they lack the serious stamp of sdence. —Sigmund Freud, Studies on Hysteria Freud himself asserts the kinship between his psychoanalytic techniques in the development of "case histories" and the noveUst's craft. This kinship, along with the antagonism naturaUy felt between competitive approaches toward a common end, not only underUes the dramatic tension of numerous Uterary works, but appears in some instances to have provoked the act of writing in the first place. Two such works, notable for their protagonists' passionate grapplings with this subject of medical versus Uterary "treatment," are The Yellow Wallpaper (1899), by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), by Evelyn Waugh.1 Charlotte Gilman wrote her chilling account of a woman's mental breakdown some five years after she herself, foUowing the birth of her first chüd, became "a mental wreck" in need of a "rest cure." She was sent to "the greatest nerve spedalist in the country," Dr. S. W. MitcheU, and, as she reports in her autobiography, treated thus: I was put to bed and kept there. I was fed, bathed, rubbed. ... As far as he could see there was nothing the matter with me, so after a month of this agreeable treatment he sent me home, with this prescription: "Live as domestic a Ufe as possible. Have your child with you aU the time." ... "Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours' inteUectual Ufe a day. And never touch pen, brush or pendl as long as you Uve."2 Literature and Medidne 9 (1990) 181-93 © 1990 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 182 MADNESS AND MEDIQNE Obviously, Gilman did not foUow her dodor's orders; The Yellow Wallpaper was only the beginning of her long and prolific career as a writer.3 Gilman imposes several dramatic revisions on her own history in order to turn it into The Yellow Wallpaper. For one, she coUapses the figures of doctor and husband into a single "John," upon whom her heroine can focus aU her ambivalence regarding her treatment as wife and patient. For another, Gilman's use of an exclusive narrative "I" excuses her heroine from dealing with the possible complexity of John's character, presenting only those aspects of his role that exacerbate her own internal predicament . This "I" also manages to elude any use of the heroine's Christian name, a passive and frustrating assertion to the reader of what underUes this woman's illness (yet impossible for her to say): "I am anonymous." For the purpose of this essay, to avoid the awkwardness of our heroine's namelessness, I shaU caU her Mary. Mary's narrative of captivity in her temporary sickroom and her fantasies of escape hinge most crudaUy on her "analysis" of the room's decrepit furnishings and decor, particularly her minute, imaginative, and finaUy haUudnatory descriptions of its offensive waUpaper. This paper entirely surrounds her; it is the "writing on the waU" that becomes, through her uncanny reflections upon it, the forbidden and secret writing in her journal, the writing that has always been on her mind. Mary's "diagnosis" of her room's longstanding damages—through time, the acddents of infant occupancy, and general neglect—wül be seen, in the end, to describe her condition more eloquently than any medical analysis at the time could possibly have done. The title character of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold is hardly simUar, on the surface, to Gilman's hysterical would-be writer. Mr. Pinfold is unthwarted, to aU appearances, by his famUy doctor, his gender, or the plague of sodal anonymity; he is a man of the world, in the enUghtened twentieth century, a recognized noveUst, and a country gentleman with access to London. Waugh subtitles his book A Conversation Piece, as if to make Ught of its harrowing subjects. In a prefatory "Note," Mr. Waugh admits that he suffered a brief bout of hallucination closely resembling what is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6571
Print ISSN
0278-9671
Pages
pp. 181-193
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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