The History of Literature #173 – The Yellow Wallpaper (with Evie Lee)


Happy new year! Host Jacke Wilson is joined by special guest Evie Lee, a vice-president at the Literature Supporters Club, for a conversation about the classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN (1860-1935) wrote nine novels and novellas, several plays, and over 180 short stories in her writing career. Her most famous work, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” combines elements of a gothic supernatural horror story with an astute, ahead of its time  psychological portrayal of a woman oppressed by her surroundings. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is today one of the most widely read and studied works in American literature.

This is a self-contained episode of The History of Literature Podcast, in which the story is read aloud before being discussed. No need to read it beforehand (unless you want to!).

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Are Authors All Narcissists?

Where does the desire to write fiction come from? Eagerness to tell stories? Desire to connect with people? Fame and fortune? Defeat death?

Does it all boil down to unfettered narcissism? I don’t mean their fiction tends toward navel-gazing – it may or may not. I’m asking whether at the heart of all impulses to write fiction is deep, unabiding, overwhelming self-love.

But wait, you say – what about those quiet, respectable authors? What about the saints and the shy? Kafka was a quiet man who worked all day for an insurance company. Eudora Welty lived with her ailing mother.

Eudora Welty, secret narcissist?
Photograph Credit: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images
Is this the face of a raging narcissist?

That might be the wrong way to look at it. As Scott Barry Kaufman observes:

But the latest research suggests that there is also a large selfish segment of the population who say they are introverted and sensitive when they really just can’t stand it that everyone doesn’t recognize their brilliance.

Hmmm. Kaufman has developed a quiz to help you see where you are on the Maladaptive Covert Narcissism Scale.

I haven’t taken the quiz. I’ve told myself that it’s because I’m not that interested in myself – because who am I, really? Just an average schmuck. Whether I’m a narcisssist or not, or introverted or not, is not really important, to me or (especially) anyone else.

Or is it that I secretly think I’m too good for the quiz…?