Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Yellow Wallpaper

Thanks for your comment Praymont. I will look for Lenz. As for the The Yellow Wallpaper it is a wonderful nineteenth century instance of madness used for polemical purposes, that I have used in teaching about the history of psychiatry. Charlotte Perkins Gilman said, as I recall, that she wrote this story as a satire of the treatment, known as the 'rest cure' that she received from the illustrious Philadelphia neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Anyone interested in the history of psychiatry in the late nineteenth century should read this. The link above is to a free online version of the story. For more background on this period you might read my article "Neurology's Influence on American Psychiatry:1865-1915."


  1. Thanks for the info about the Yellow Wallpaper.

    RE. *Lenz*: John Reddick's translation is included in Buchner's *Complete Plays, Lenz, and Other Writings* (Penguin Classics). Also, there is the more recent translation of *Lenz* by Richard Sieburth (Archipelago Books, 2004), which includes a valuable discussion of the text by Sieburth.

    *Lenz* is an unfinished work from 1836 that recounts the descent into mental illness of the Sturm-und-Drang playwright J. M. R. Lenz, who attended some of Kant's lectures and later befriended Goethe. In 1776, Lenz went to Weimar but, after seeing the signs of Lenz's mental illness (paranoid schizophrenia), Goethe had Lenz expelled from Weimar. Lenz was sent by friends to live with a pastor, Johann Oberlin (himself an interesting figure after whom Oberlin College was named).

    I read Sieburth's translation of *Lenz* about a year ago and was floored by it. Buchner, who had studied medicine, relied on Oberlin's diary but also tried to write about Lenz's state of mind 'from the inside'. The result is considered to be a significant influence on the later modernists.

  2. The yellow wall paper – strange parallels?

    Around the time Perkins was following her ‘rest cure’, Sigmund Freud was reading the German translation of Mitchell’s book “Fat and Blood” and in his review (1887) he praised his American colleague; later on, in “Studien ΓΌber Hysterie” (1895) he still recommended the rest cure but now combined with the cathartic therapy of his colleague Breuer, a treatment ‘discovered’ by the famous Anna O., miss Bertha Pappenheim. Interesting parallels can be drawn now between the two women, with remarkably similar dates: Pappenheim (1859-1936) - Perkins (1860-1935). They have both shown very creative and productive lifes: ‘thanks to’ or ‘despite’ of their therapies??!! In 1895, the year of Anna O’s case publication, Virginia Woolf had her first nervous breakdown. Interestingly enough, although she would promote psychoanalysis through her publication house (Freud’s collected works in English), she never underwent this treatment but followed at least four times a ‘rest cure’ which she detested in a way most similar to Perkins… (I have elaborated these 'coincidences' in a Dutch essay, a couple years ago)
    Walter Vandereycken, Belgium