Read “When I Was a Witch,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“When I Was a Witch”

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman


If I had understood the terms of that one-sided contract with Satan, the Time of Witching would have lasted longer–you may be sure of that. But how was I to tell? It just happened, and has never happened again, though I’ve tried the same preliminaries as far as I could control them.

The thing began all of a sudden, one October midnight–the 30th, to be exact. It had been hot, really hot, all day, and was sultry and thunderous in the evening; no air stirring, and the whole house stewing
with that ill-advised activity which always seems to move the steam radiator when it isn’t wanted.

I was in a state of simmering rage–hot enough, even without the weather and the furnace–and I went up on the roof to cool off. A top-floor apartment has that advantage, among others–you can take a walk without the mediation of an elevator boy!

There are things enough in New York to lose one’s temper over at the best of times, and on this particular day they seemed to all happen at once, and some fresh ones. The night before, cats and dogs had broken my rest, of course. My morning paper was more than usually mendacious; and my neighbor’s morning paper–more visible than my own as I went down town–was more than usually salacious. My cream wasn’t cream–my egg was a relic of the past. My “new” napkins were giving out.

Being a woman, I’m supposed not to swear; but when the motorman disregarded my plain signal, and grinned as he rushed by; when the subway guard waited till I was just about to step on board and then slammed the door in my face–standing behind it calmly for some minutes before the bell rang to warrant his closing–I desired to swear like a mule-driver.

At night it was worse. The way people paw one’s back in the crowd! The cow-puncher who packs the people in or jerks them out–the men who smoke and spit, law or no law–the women whose saw-edged cart-wheel hats, swashing feathers and deadly pins, add so to one’s comfort inside.

Well, as I said, I was in a particularly bad temper, and went up on the roof to cool off. Heavy black clouds hung low overhead, and lightning flickered threateningly here and there.

A starved, black cat stole from behind a chimney and mewed dolefully. Poor thing! She had been scalded.

The street was quiet for New York. I leaned over a little and looked up and down the long parallels of twinkling lights. A belated cab drew near, the horse so tired he could hardly hold his head up.

Then the driver, with a skill born of plenteous practice, flung out his long-lashed whip and curled it under the poor beast’s belly with a stinging cut that made me shudder. The horse shuddered too, poor wretch, and jingled his harness with an effort at a trot.

I leaned over the parapet and watched that man with a spirit of unmitigated ill-will. Continue reading “Read “When I Was a Witch,” a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman”

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“A Human World” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“A Human World”

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(from Our Androcentric Culutre; or, The Man Made World)


In the change from the dominance of one sex to the equal power of two, to what may we look forward? What effect upon civilization is to be expected from the equality of womanhood in the human race?

To put the most natural question first—what will men lose by it? Many men are genuinely concerned about this; fearing some new position of subservience and disrespect. Others laugh at the very idea of change in their position, relying as always on the heavier fist. So long as fighting was the determining process, the best fighter must needs win; but in the rearrangement of processes which marks our age, superior physical strength does not make the poorer wealthy, nor even the soldier a general.

The major processes of life to-day are quite within the powers of women; women are fulfilling their new relations more and more successfully; gathering new strength, new knowledge, new ideals. The change is upon us; what will it do to men?

No harm.

As we are a monogamous race, there will be no such drastic and cruel selection among competing males as would eliminate the vast majority as unfit. Even though some be considered unfit for fatherhood, all human life remains open to them. Perhaps the most important feature of this change comes in right here; along this old line of sex-selection, replacing that power in the right hands, and using it for the good of the race.

The woman, free at last, intelligent, recognizing her real place and responsibility in life as a human being, will be not less, but more, efficient as a mother. She will understand that, in the line of physical evolution, motherhood is the highest process; and that her work, as a contribution to an improved race, must always involve this great function. She will see that right parentage is the purpose of the whole scheme of sex-relationship, and act accordingly.

In our time, his human faculties being sufficiently developed, civilized man can look over and around his sex limitations, and begin to see what are the true purposes and methods of human life. Continue reading ““A Human World” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman”

“Masculine Literature” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Masculine Literature”

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(from Our Androcentric Culutre; or, The Man Made World)


When we are offered a “woman’s” paper, page, or column, we find it filled with matter supposed to appeal to women as a sex or class; the writer mainly dwelling upon the Kaiser’s four K’s—Kuchen, Kinder, Kirche, Kleider. They iterate and reiterate endlessly the discussion of cookery, old and new; of the care of children; of the overwhelming subject of clothing; and of moral instruction. All this is recognized as “feminine” literature, and it must have some appeal else the women would not read it. What parallel have we in “masculine” literature?

“None!” is the proud reply. “Men are people! Women, being ‘the sex,’ have their limited feminine interests, their feminine point of view, which must be provided for. Men, however, are not restricted—to them belongs the world’s literature!”

Yes, it has belonged to them—ever since there was any. They have written it and they have read it. It is only lately that women, generally speaking, have been taught to read; still more lately that they have been allowed to write. It is but a little while since Harriet Martineau concealed her writing beneath her sewing when visitors came in—writing was “masculine”—sewing “feminine.” Continue reading ““Masculine Literature” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman”

“Men and Art” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Men and Art”

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(from Our Androcentric Culutre; or, The Man Made World)


Among the many counts in which women have been proven inferior to men in human development is the oft-heard charge that there are no great women artists. Where one or two are proudly exhibited in evidence, they are either pooh-poohed as not very great, or held to be the trifling exceptions which do but prove the rule.

Defenders of women generally make the mistake of over-estimating their performances, instead of accepting, and explaining, the visible facts. What are the facts as to the relation of men and women to art? And what, in especial, has been the effect upon art of a solely masculine expression?

When we look for the beginnings of art, we find ourselves in a period of crude decoration of the person and of personal belongings. Tattooing, for instance, is an early form of decorative art, still in practice among certain classes, even in advanced people. Most boys, if they are in contact with this early art, admire it, and wish to adorn themselves therewith; some do so—to later mortification. Early personal decoration consisted largely in direct mutilation of the body, and the hanging upon it, or fastening to it, of decorative objects. This we see among savages still, in its gross and primitive forms monopolized by men, then shared by women, and, in our time, left almost wholly to them. In personal decoration today, women are still near the savage. The “artists” developed in this field of art are the tonsorial, the sartorial, and all those specialized adorners of the body commonly known as “beauty doctors.” Continue reading ““Men and Art” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman”

“The Girls of Herland” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“The Girls of Herland,” below, is Chapter 8 of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 novel Herland, a feminist utopian novel that was serialized during its author’s lifetime, but not published in one volume until 1979.  This chapter can, I believe, stand alone or serve even as an introduction even to Herland, depsite coming rather late in the text, but readers who wish more context/want the whole thing can legally download Herland via Project Gutenburg.

***

“The Girls of Herland”

by

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

At last Terry’s ambition was realized. We were invited, always courteously and with free choice on our part, to address general audiences and classes of girls.

I remember the first time—and how careful we were about our clothes, and our amateur barbering. Terry, in particular, was fussy to a degree about the cut of his beard, and so critical of our combined efforts, that we handed him the shears and told him to please himself. We began to rather prize those beards of ours; they were almost our sole distinction among those tall and sturdy women, with their cropped hair and sexless costume. Being offered a wide selection of garments, we had chosen according to our personal taste, and were surprised to find, on meeting large audiences, that we were the most highly decorated, especially Terry.

He was a very impressive figure, his strong features softened by the somewhat longer hair—though he made me trim it as closely as I knew how; and he wore his richly embroidered tunic with its broad, loose girdle with quite a Henry V air. Jeff looked more like—well, like a Huguenot Lover; and I don’t know what I looked like, only that I felt very comfortable. When I got back to our own padded armor and its starched borders I realized with acute regret how comfortable were those Herland clothes.

We scanned that audience, looking for the three bright faces we knew; but they were not to be seen. Just a multitude of girls: quiet, eager, watchful, all eyes and ears to listen and learn.

We had been urged to give, as fully as we cared to, a sort of synopsis of world history, in brief, and to answer questions. Continue reading ““The Girls of Herland” — Charlotte Perkins Gilman”

The Vintage Book of American Women Writers

In her introduction to The Vintage Book of American Women Writers, editor Elaine Showalter suggests that “the main reason women do not figure in American literary history is because they have not been the ones to write it.” Showalter sought to amend the fact that women writers, even those who were praised in their own era, “tended to disappear from literary history and national memory” in her earlier volume A Jury of Her Peers, a comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000. History though is not enough — Showalter continues in her introduction: “Finally, we need a canon of outstanding women writers over the past four centuries both to organize their history and to begin the arguments that keep literary discussion alive.” The Vintage Book of American Women Writers aims to be that canon, or at least to be a volume of that canon, collecting writing by American women from the past 360 years. And while Showalter admits that “it cannot claim to be comprehensive,” the trade paperback is impressively hefty at over 800 pages, showcasing the work of 79 authors.

Many of these authors will be familiar (hopefully) to anyone who didn’t sleep through his or her American lit class in high school. The volume begins with several selections from the Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet; there’s also Mary Rowlandson, Phillis Wheatley, and Margaret Fuller. A tidy chunk of the early part of the book comes from writers we might associate with the transcendentalist movement — Harriet Beecher Stowe, Julia Ward Howe, Louisa May Alcott, and Emily Dickinson, just to name a few of the more famous writers. There’s an abundance of riches near the turn of the twentieth century, with tales from Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Edith Wharton, writers who set the stage for the modernism of Gertrude Stein, Katherine Anne Porter, and H.D. And then: Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Zora Neale Hurston (the collection won my heart simply by including her incomparable short story “Sweat”), Gwendolyn Brooks, Cynthia Ozick, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Proulx, Ursula K. LeGuin, Flannery O’Connor (but not, for some reason, Carson McCullers), Amy Tan, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

I realize I’m just listing names now, but hopefully you know these names, are familiar with them, have read their works (if not, The Vintage Book of American Women Writers is clearly a great starting place). As an experiment — and perhaps an implicit challenge to Showalter’s contention that these writers continue to be neglected — I counted the authors I’d read at least once before this collection: 33, or 42%. Granted, I teach English for a living, and many of these authors are represented in every literature anthology I’ve ever used. But that might be my point, I suppose, that the canon has opened up, been re-examined and reformed. I can’t think of a literature course I’ve ever taught that hasn’t included Hurston or O’Connor or Katherine Anne Porter.

For me then, the greater joy in The Vintage Book of American Women Writers is in reading the writers that I haven’t seen anthologized before. I’m almost ashamed to admit I hadn’t yet read (okay, never even heard of) the abolitionist poet Frances E. W. Harper; Lydia Huntley Sigourney’s poem “Indian Names,” written in 1849, seems more poignant (and troubling) than ever; Rose Terry Cooke’s “Blue-beard’s Closet” (1861) resonates strongly, in that it connects to the latest piece in the collection, Annie Proulx’s “55 Miles to the Nearest Gas Pump.” The story of Bluebeard of course metaphorizes the history that Showalter wishes to reverse, what with its discarded bodies, locked in a secret room, awaiting discorvery. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch (or at least a hyperbole). In any case, these stories, poems, essays, fables, and tales are hardly lifeless. Great stuff.

The Vintage Book of American Women Writers is new in trade paperback from Vintage.

Kate Beaton Spoofs Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

At Hark, A Vagrant!, Kate Beaton spoofs Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s seminal feminist/horror short story “The Yellow Wallpaper”–