University of Virginia Library



My sincere thanks to Allan Dooley, David Vander Meulen, and Sidney Reid for their comments on earlier drafts of this essay.


Denise Knight has edited a diplomatic transcription of the Radcliffe manuscript in "The Yellow Wall-paper" and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), 39-53. The original resides in the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass.


Julie Bates Dock, Daphne Ryan Allen, Jennifer Palais, and Kristen Tracy, "'But One Expects That": Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" and the Shifting Light of Scholarship," PMLA 111 (January 1996): 52-65.


It was thus never out of print or in need of recovery, as so many critics and editors have claimed. For example, Susan S. Lanser, "Feminist Criticism, 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' and the Politics of Color in America," Feminist Studies 15 (Fall 1989), begins an otherwise excellent New Historicist argument with the fable that the story was "out of print for half a century" (415). The Instructor's Manual to Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, Sixth Edition (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995) deems such a collapsed historical record "worth recounting," presumably to composition students (82).

The only dangerous period may have been the twenty years between its book publication as The Yellow Wall Paper by Small, Maynard & Company in 1899 and William Dean Howells' edition in The Great Modern American Stories: An Anthology (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1920). However, the existence of new impressions and (re)issues of the editions listed here may establish that the story's appearances have been downright plentiful during the twentieth century. For example, the National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints lists 1901 and 1911 book printings by Small, Maynard, and Company. The OCLC electronic database locates a "5th Ed." of Howells' book in 1921. Unless otherwise noted in brackets [ ], the following list names editions, in the traditional sense of production from a substantially new setting of type, of "The Yellow Wall-Paper" prior to 1973.

The story was printed next during Gilman's lifetime (1860-1935) in the New York Evening Post of January 21, 1922. A copy of this edition was found in the Gilman Papers at Radcliffe College. The fifth edition was in American Mystery Stories (New York: Oxford University Press, American Branch, 1927), the sixth in Golden Book 18 (October 1933), a literary magazine, and the seventh in A Book of the Short Story (New York: American Book Company, 1934). The books containing the fifth and seventh editions are scholarly collections. The Finnish translation by Irene Tokoi appeared in Nykyaika 15 (June 1934), totalling eight known editions during Gilman's lifetime.

The Short Story Index locates two early editions after Gilman's death that do not appear in other references: in Theme and Variation in the Short Story (New York: The Gordon Company, 1938), and in About Women, A Collection of Short Stories (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1943).

The story enjoyed popular status as a ghost story during the time it fell from scholarly view, and according to Everett F. Bleiler's The Guide to Supernatural Fiction (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1983), saw print at least eight times: in The Haunted Omnibus (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1937) [which saw reincarnation minus its Foreword, fourteen stories, and an Afterword by Edith Wharton as Great Ghost Stories of the World, The Haunted Omnibus (New York: Garden City Books, 1939 and New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1941)]; The Midnight Reader: Great Stories of Haunting and Horror (New York: Holt, 1942) [brought out by London publishers World Distributors and Bodley Head in 1948 and 1949, respectively]; Ghostly Tales To Be Told (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1950); More Macabre (New York: Ace Books, 1961); These Will Chill You: Twelve Terrifying Tales of Malignant Evil (New York: Bantam Books, 1967); and Eight Strange Tales (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1972). It also appeared under similar guise in A Chamber of Horrors Unlocked (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965) and in Ladies of Horror (New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1971). Some of these books were only released as paperbacks, and given the context they provide "The Yellow Wall-Paper," it is easy to imagine why they have evaded or resisted scholarly attention.

Other pre-1973 printings provide a renewed scholarly context for the story: Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories (New York: Mentor 1956); Psychopathology and Literature (San Francisco: Chandler Publishing Co., 1960 [and 1966]); The Writer's Signature: Idea in Story and Essay (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Co., 1972); and The Oven Birds (New York: Doubleday, 1972).


Consequently, no later printings derived second-hand from these editions (i. e. anthologies using the 1933 Golden Book text) carry any authority.


The Diaries of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. ed. Denise D. Knight, 2 vols. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994).


"Record of Mss. Beginning March 1st 1890." Box XXVII, Vol. 23. Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1935), 118-119. Gilman must have referred directly to this card in preparing the book some forty-four years later. Except for misreading Scudder's "W. Howells" for "Mr. Howells," her transcription is exact. The card resides in the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.


Howells requested on October 7, 1919, to "use your terrible story of 'The Yellow Wall Paper' in a book I am making for Messrs. Boni & Liveright and thinking of calling 'Little American Masterpieces of Fiction.'" Correspondence with William Dean Howells. Folder 120. Charlotte Perkins Gilman Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.


Endure: The Diaries of Charles Walter Stetson. ed. Mary A. Hill ( Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985).


Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper," ed. Thomas L. Erksine and Connie L. Richards (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1993), 7.


See Joanne B. Karpinski, "When the Marriage of True Minds Admits Impediments: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Wiliam Dean Howells," Patrons and Protegees, ed. Shirley Marchalonis (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988), 227, for a discussion of the social pressures bearing on the Atlantic Monthly at the time of Howells' and Scudder's editorships.


Fredson Bowers, "Remarks on Eclectic Texts," Proof 4 (1975), 43, 62.


Bowers, pp. 66-67.


This problem was devised by Dock herself and related to me in private conversation.


Some variants are likely the result of typographical concerns. For example, The New England Magazine used a two-column type page with occasional illustrations and customarily began each piece of fiction with a large, stylized capital letter, necessitating a narrower column. The first variant from MS, "John and myself" (the complete fourth line of NEM) for "John and I", is less correct grammatically and might not have been substituted had it not supplied an appropriate number of characters for the line. "John and I" would have required a very unattractive amount of spacing, "John and I secure" would have been too tight, and "John and I se-" would have been much less desirable than the solution that was adopted. The story's final variant, in which MS reading " had to creep over him!" was changed to "I had to creep over him every time!" in NEM, clearly furnished the extra line needed to make the two type columns end flush. That this evenness is not merely coincidental but rather an intended typographical feature is suggested by the nearly universal occurrence of the phenomenon throughout 1891 and 1892 numbers of the magazine, where only 2 of the almost 300 articles end with uneven columns. (I am grateful to Elizabeth Lynch for determining these numbers.) The interpretive consequences of the free rein likely taken by NEM's compositor(s) in these cases are significant: both sentences are in key narrative positions that critics typically scrutinize.


G. Thomas Tanselle, "Greg's Theory of Copy-Text and the Editing of American Literature," Studies in Bibliography 28 (1975), 225.


The circumstance of Gilman not receiving payment for the story has little effect on a traditional view of the textual situation, but should not be lost on those who like to believe in social construction of texts. Gilman was a writer and lecturer who relied on her craft for a living, and overwhelming evidence shows that, penniless as she was in 1892, she would never have willingly parted with "The Yellow Wall-Paper" without payment. As initiator of a collaborative process, surely her wishes rate some degree of respect. I know of no author who has ever accepted the idea of a pirate as collaborator (whether The New England Magazine actually pirated the story would have made precious little difference from Gilman's perspective, and she couldn't know anyway). And by definition, collaboration involves willing cooperation between participants.


See Allan C. Dooley, Author and Printer in Victorian England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), and Peter L. Shillingsburg, Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and W. M. Thackeray (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992) for detailed examples of such relationships involving Thackery, Tennyson, Eliot, and others.


"The Writing of 'The Yellow Wallpaper': A Double Palimpsest" Studies in American Fiction 17:2 (Autumn 1989), 195 (193-201).


W. W. Greg, "The Rationale of Copy-Text," Studies in Bibliography 3 (1950), 19-36.


Dock reasons according to the model espoused by Phillip Gaskell and others: "Gilman's manuscript has no necessary textual priority, for she would have expected editors to regularize punctuation in accordance with standards of her day. Moreover, Gilman offered no objection to the minor variations from her manuscript, as far as we have been able to discover. In the absence of evidence that Gilman opposed printing-house changes, the first printing stands as the version that best embodies the story Gilman presented to her contemporaries" (55). In my view, Dock fails to acknowledge that "minor variations" are in the eye of the beholder, that Gilman had no means or opportunity of opposing them anyway, and that absence of evidence proves very little.

At least one scholar has claimed the author was less than competent in the matter of accidentals. Biographer Ann J. Lane, in her "Preface" to To Herland and Beyond (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990), xiii, states in passing that "The casual relationship to the rules of spelling and grammar evidenced in Charlotte Gilman's writings reflects both her limited formal education and her later articulated belief that such rules were not especially important."


Richard Feldstein, "Reader, Text, and Ambiguous Referentiality in 'The Yellow Wall-Paper,'" The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper ed. Catherine Golden (New York: Feminist Press, 1992), devises an ingenious explanation for Gilman's varying use of "wallpaper," "wall paper," and "wall-paper." He points out that in NEM "there was a perceptible, though random, pattern of word usage: initially, there are three references to wall-paper; then, inexplicably, wallpaper appears five times before the pattern reverses itself and wall-paper is used four times. . . . From Gilman's original manuscript, however, it is apparent that the word(s) wall(-)paper were conceived as a shifter calculated to create ambiguity about a referent that resists analysis, even as the narrator resists her husband's diagnosis and prescription for cure" (308). In other words, Gilman's fluid spelling "in defiance of any unvarying pattern of logic" helped establish the themes of the story. Feldstein's notion argues strongly against regularization of Gilman's accidentals (308-309).

Alfred Bendixen once suggested to me, in accounting for variant forms of "wall-paper," that NEM might have been typeset by multiple compositors. The "random pattern" Feldstein discerned would be consistent with a manuscript division into three "takes" of 19-20 ms. pages each. Further investigation into the theory, which would involve a full comparison of other accidentals in the story and probably surrounding stories in the magazine as well, is beyond the scope of this essay.


Disregard for an author's paragraphing was not confined to Gilman's experience. In 1914, Theodore Dreiser sent the handwritten manuscript of The "Genius" to a typist: "One of the most pervasive variants in the typescript is the alteration of Dreiser's paragraphing in the holograph, either by dividing a single paragraph into two or more or by combining separate paragraphs into one. . . . the original form is well-nigh always restored [through proofing] in the published version." Louis J. Oldani, "Dreiser's 'Genius' in the Making: Composition and Revision." Studies in Bibliography, 47 (1994), 240.


Feldstein, informed by his knowledge of MS, surveys some of these arguments and takes exception: "If we read 'The Yellow Wall-Paper' ironically and not simply as a case history of one woman's mental derangement, the narrator's madness becomes questionable, and the question of madness itself, an issue raised as a means of problematizing such a reading" (311).