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Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman Charlotte Perkins Gilman[1†]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935), also known by her first married name Charlotte Perkins Stetson, was an American humanist, novelist, writer, lecturer, advocate for social reform, and eugenicist[1†]. She was a leading theorist of the women’s movement in the United States[1†][2†][1†]. Gilman grew up in poverty, her father having essentially abandoned the family[1†][2†]. Despite her challenging upbringing, she became a prominent figure in the feminist movement and a respected author and social reformer[1†][2†][1†].

Early Years and Education

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut[1†]. Her parents were Mary Perkins (formerly Mary Fitch Westcott) and Frederic Beecher Perkins[1†]. She had only one brother, Thomas Adie, who was fourteen months older[1†]. Her father essentially abandoned the family, leaving them in poverty[1†][2†][1†].

During her childhood, Gilman was often in the presence of her father’s aunts, namely Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist; Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and Catharine Beecher, an educationalist[1†]. Despite the hardships, she frequently visited the public library and studied ancient civilizations on her own[1†]. Her father’s love for literature influenced her, and years later he contacted her with a list of books he felt would be worthwhile for her to read[1†].

Gilman’s schooling was erratic: she attended seven different schools, for a cumulative total of just four years, ending when she was fifteen[1†][4†]. Despite the irregularity of her education, she did attend the Rhode Island School of Design for a time[1†][2†][5†]. At age 18, her absent father supported her financially to enroll in classes at the Rhode Island School of Design[1†][4†]. She went on to become financially independent as a trade card artist, painter, and tutor[1†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s career was marked by her work as a lecturer, author, and reformer[2†][1†]. After moving to California in 1888, she began writing poems and stories for various periodicals[2†]. Among her stories, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” published in The New England Magazine in January 1892, was exceptional for its starkly realistic first-person portrayal of the mental breakdown of a physically pampered but emotionally starved young wife[2†]. In 1893, she published “In This Our World,” a volume of verse[2†].

Gilman also became a noted lecturer during the early 1890s on such social topics as labour, ethics, and the place of women[2†]. After a short period of residence at Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago in 1895, she spent the next five years in national lecture tours[2†]. Her many written works included “Women and Economics,” “Human Work,” “The Man-Made World,” and "The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography"[2†][1†].

She was hailed as the brains of the US women’s movement, whose focus she sought to broaden from suffrage to economics[2†][6†]. Her best-remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which she wrote after a severe bout of postpartum psychosis[2†][1†]. This story, along with her other works, has had a significant impact on feminist literature and thought[2†][1†].

First Publication of Main Works

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prolific writer, and her works have had a significant impact on feminist literature and thought. Here are some of her main works:

Each of these works has contributed to Gilman’s reputation as a leading theorist of the women’s movement in the United States[2†][1†]. Her writings often tackled themes of women’s rights and social reform[2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work has undergone significant shifts in reputation and interpretation over time[9†]. Internationally known during her lifetime as a feminist, a socialist, and the author of “Women and Economics” — an instant classic — she was less well recognized for her prodigious literary output[9†]. After her death, Gilman dropped out of the public consciousness for several decades[9†].

However, the feminist movement of the 1970s rediscovered her, primarily focusing on her fiction more than her nonfiction[9†]. Her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” about a woman confined to her bedroom, hallucinating as she stares at the patterns on the wall, became especially popular, as did “Herland” and her other utopian novels[9†].

Today, contemporary scholars are taking another look at Gilman, this time in a context that includes all her writing[9†]. Comprehensive critical surveys of Gilman’s short stories from 1886–1916 discuss her feminism and her ideological stances, including reform Darwinism, with particular reference to “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and other early tales[9†][10†].

Gilman’s work, particularly “The Yellow Wallpaper,” has been the subject of extensive analysis and criticism[9†][11†]. Her reflections on writing, from primary sources, and criticism of several of her short stories have been discussed[9†][11†].

In conclusion, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work has had a profound impact on feminist literature and thought. Her writings, which often tackled themes of women’s rights and social reform, continue to inspire scholars and readers alike[9†][2†].

Personal Life

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was married to artist Charles Walter Stetson in 1884[12†]. After the birth of their daughter, Katharine, she began to suffer from depression[12†][7†]. This experience inspired her famous short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), about a woman’s descent into madness[12†][7†].

Gilman’s domestic life proved unsuited to her[12†][7†]. She was a reluctant wife and mother[12†][9†]. Before marrying Stetson, Gilman insisted he swear that he’d never expect her to cook or clean and never require her, “whatever the emergency, to DUST!”[12†][9†].

She divorced her husband in 1894 and moved with her daughter to California[12†]. Later, she sent her daughter to live with her father before getting romantically involved with her first cousin[12†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s legacy is a testament to her relentless pursuit of ideas that were far ahead of her time[13†][2†]. She enjoyed a worldwide reputation as a writer, lecturer, and socialist, and her prodigious output (novels, stories, poetry, lectures, journalism, theoretical works) stands as a major contribution to modern feminist thought on important, contested economic and social issues[13†][14†].

Despite the controversy surrounding some of her views, Gilman’s work retains a distinctive place in American letters: a mix of perspicacity, subversiveness, and humor, propelled by an admirable taste for experimentation and an inexhaustible work ethic[13†]. Her writings, particularly “The Yellow Wallpaper”, continue to be studied and analyzed for their profound commentary on women’s health and the societal constraints of her time[13†][2†].

However, after her death in 1935, she was virtually forgotten[13†][14†]. It was not until the 1970s, amid the renewed interest of second-wave feminists, that scholars rediscovered this forgotten writer[13†]. Today, Gilman is remembered as a pioneer of feminist literature and a champion of women’s rights, with her works continuing to inspire and influence generations[13†][2†][6†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Charlotte Perkins Gilman [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Charlotte Perkins Gilman: American author and social reformer [website] - link
  3. ThoughtCo - Biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, American Novelist [website] - link
  4. ZigZag Education - Mini-Bios - Gilman, Charlotte Perkins [website] - link
  5. Connecticut History - Charlotte Perkins Gilman [website] - link
  6. Stanford University Press - Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Biography - Cynthia J. Davis... [website] - link
  7. History of Women Philosophers and Scientists - Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (1860-1935) [website] - link
  8. Poetry Foundation - Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman [website] - link
  9. Harvard University - Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study - The Evolution of Charlotte Perkins Gilman [website] - link
  10. Oxford Bibliographies - Charlotte Perkins Gilman - American Literature [website] - link
  11. eNotes - Charlotte Perkins Gilman Analysis [website] - link
  12. SunSigns - Charlotte Perkins Gilman Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  13. The New York Review of Books - The Equivocal Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman [website] - link
  14. Google Books - The Mixed Legacy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman [website] - link
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