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Charlotte (Anna) Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) - Original name Charlotte Anna Perkins, earlier married name Stetson

 

American writer, economist, and lecturer, an early theorist of the feminist movement, who wrote over two hundred short stories and some ten novels. Gilman refused to call herself a "feminist"- her goal as a humanist was to campaign for the cause of women's suffrage. Gilman saw that the domestic environment has become an institution which oppresses women. Her famous story, 'The Yellow Wallpaper' (1892), depicted a depressed woman who slowly descends into madness in her room, while her well-meaning husband is often away due to his work at a hospital.

"Personally, I disagree with their ideas.
Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.
But what to do?
I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal
having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.
I sometime fancy that in my condition, if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus – but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad."
(from 'The Yellow Wallpaper')

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Frederick Beecher Perkins, a librarian and writer, and Mary (Westcott) Perkins. Among her father's forebears was the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, his aunt. Perkins abandoned his wife after their infant died in 1866-Mary Perkins lived with her children on the brink of poverty and was often forced to move from relative to relative or to other temporary lodgings.

Gilman was a voracious reader and largely self-educated. He interests covered a wide range of subjects, including reform Darwinism. She studied two years at Rhode Island School of Design (1878-80) and then earned her living designing greetings cards. In 1884 she married Charles Walter Stetson, an aspiring artist. From her early adulthood, she had suffered from periodic bouts of melancloly, and after the birth of their daughter Katharine, she was beset by depression.

Gilman began treatment with Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell in 1886. His recommendations were "live as domestic a life as possible" and "never touch a pen, brush or pencil as long as you live." Gilman later satirized this in her autobiography, and used the discussions in her most renowned short story, 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' which first appeared in New England Magazine in January 1892 and was reprinted as a chapbook in 1899. Loosely based on Gilman's own experiendes it tells of a young mother suffering from a temporary nervous depression. John, her husband, is a physician, who doesn't believe in supernatural things. He has ordered her to "rest" in the bedroom of their rented house. There narrator records her psychological torment in a secret diary. The patterns of the room's hideous yellow wallpaper start to haunt her. She sees a woman creeping around it, as if she wanted to get out. "Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling snakes it all over." Finally she locks her inside the room to creep around as she pleases. Gilman's other short stories in the gothic tradition include 'The Giant Wistaria' (1891), 'The Rocking Chair' (1893), and 'The Unwatched Door' (1894).

In 1888 Gilman separated from Stetson (they divorced in 1894), and moved to California. Gilman's second husband was her cousin George Houghton Gilman, a New York lawyer. In 1894-95 she served as editor of The Impress, a literary weekly published by the Pacific Coast Women's Press Association, and published an experimental series of stories, in which she imitated the style of such well-known authors as Louisa May Alcott, Hathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain. Gilman's first book was In This Our World (1893), a collection of satiric poems with feminist themes. During the next two decades she gained fame with her lectures on women's issues, ethics, labor, human right, and social reform. These themes were dealt also in her fiction. From 1909 to 1916 Gilman edited and wrote her own feminist paper, The Forerunner, in which most of her fiction appeared. The magazine had nearly 1,500 subscribers.

Gilman was active in Nationalism, a reform movement which predicted the fall of capitalism and was inspired by Edward Bellamy's utopian socialist romance Looking Backward. This work also influenced her utopian novel Herland (Women's Press, 1979). In the story three young men discover a peaceful, lost civilization, populated entirely by women who reproduce parthenogenetically. There are no wars, no disease. motherhood is divine. "It would be so wonderful–would it not? To compare the history of two thousand years, to see what the differences are–between us, who are only mothers, and you, who are mothers and fathers, too. Of course we see, with our birds, that the father is as useful as the mother, almost. But among insects we find him of less importance, sometimes very little. Is it not so with you?" (from Herland) Originally Herland appeared in Gilman's monthly journal, The Forerunner, like her other novels, What Diantha Did (1909-1910), The Crux (1911), and Moving the Mountain (1911), all published by Charlton. Benigna Machiavelli was reissued by Bandanna Books in 1994.

Gilman's best-known contribution to feminist theory is Women and Economics (1898), in which she attacked the old division of social roles. However, she refused the title "feminist," arguing that "feminism" should be retitle "humanism." The study was translated into seven languages and sold stedily. According to Gilman, male aggressiveness and maternal roles of women are artificial and not necessary for survival any more. "There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. As well speak of a female liver." (from Woman and Economics, 1898) Only economic independence could bring true freedom for women and make them equal partners to their husbands. In Concerning Children (1900) Gilman advocated professional child-care.

Annoyed with life in a metropolis, she moved in 1922 with her husband from New York to Norwich, Connecticut, and wrote there His Religion and Hers, in which she planned a religion freed from the dictates of oppressive patriarchal instincts. In 1932 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her husband died suddenly from a cderebral hemorrhage in 1934, she returned to California to live near her daughter. Gilman died on August 17, 1935, in Pasadena, California-an advocate of euthanasia, she ended her own life by taking an overdose of chloroform. Her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1935), came out posthumously. The mystery novel, Unpunished, did not appear during her lifetime, but was published in 1997 by The Feminist Press. Gilman and her work were mostly forgotten for two decades until the feminist movement of the 1960s revived interest in her. The historian Carl N. Dengler contrasted Gilman with Simone Beauvoir, and introduced her as "a sociologist and a social critic," who had proposed strategies for women's emancipation  decades before Beauvoir.

For further reading: The Feminism of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Sexualities, Histories, Progressivism by Judith A. Allen (2009); Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Study of the Short Fiction by Denise D. Knight (1997); Critical Essays on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ed. by J. Kaprinski (1992); To Herland and Beyond by Ann J. Lane (1990); Building Domestic Liberty by P. Allen (1988); Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the Woman and Her Work, ed. by S. Meyering (1988); Charlotte Perkins Gilman by G. Scharnhorst (1985); The New Feminist Criticism, ed. by E. Showalter (1985); Charlotte Perkins Gilman by M. Hill (1980) - See also: Virginia Woolf, who stated in her classical essay A Room of One's Own (1929), that a woman must have money and room of her own if she is to write, and intellectual freedom requires financial freedom.

Selected works:

  • A Clarion Call to Redeem the Race!: The Burden of Mothers, 1890
  • 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' 1892 (short story; first published in The New England Magazine)
    - 'Keltainen seinäpaperi' (teoksessa Haudantakaisia, toim. Markku Sadelehto, 1994; teoksessa Keltainen seinäpaperi ja muita kirjoituksia, suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2010)
  • In This Our Word, 1893
  • Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution, 1898
  • The Yellow Wallpaper, 1899
    - Keltainen seinäpaperi ja muita kirjoituksia (suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2010)
  • Concerning Children, 1900
  • The Home: Its Work and Influence, 1903
  • Human Work, 1904
  • The Punishment That Educates, 1907
  • What Diantha Did, 1909-1910 (Forerunner)
  • The Crux, 1911 (Forerunner)
  • Moving the Mountain, 1911 (Forerunner)
  • Suffrage Songs and Verses, 1911
  • Mag-Marjorie, 1912 (Forerunner)
  • Our Brains and What Ails Them, 1912
  • The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture, 1911
    - Miesten luoma maailma (suomentanut A. K., 1917)
  • Benigna Machiavelli, 1914 (Forerunner)
  • Social Ethics, 1914 (Forerunner)
  • With Her in Ourland, 1916 (Forerunner)
  • His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers, 1923
  • The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography, 1935
  • Forerunner Vols. 1-7: Nov. 1909-Dec.1916, 1968
  • Herland, 1973
    - Herland (suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2009); Naisten maa: kuunnelma (suom. Marja Rankkala, 1983)
  • The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader, 1980 (edited by Ann J. Lane)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Nonfiction Reader, 1991 (edited by Larry Ceplair)
  • Herland and Selected Stories, 1992
  • The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Volume 1: 1879-1887 and Volume 2 1890-1935, 1994 (edited by Denise D. Knight)
  • The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1991 (edited by Denise D. Knight)
  • A Journey from Within: The Love Letters of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1897-1900, 1897-1900, 1995 (edited by Mary A. Hill)
  • The Later Poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1996
  • Ununished, 1997 (eds. Catherine J. Golden and Denise D. Knight)

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