An Updated Publication History of "The Yellow Wall-Paper"

By St. Jean Shawn | Studies in Short Fiction, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

An Updated Publication History of "The Yellow Wall-Paper"


St. Jean Shawn, Studies in Short Fiction


Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wall-Paper" has often fallen unintended victim to a specialized form of revisionist history. Most scholarly accounts shrink the number of its pre-1973 appearances in print considerably, as Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's in the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (1st ed.): "[the story] was published in May 1892 in The New England Magazine and later reprinted by William Dean Howells in Great Modern American Stories (1920)" (1147). Many accounts indicate that, despite Howells's efforts, "the story was virtually ignored for over fifty years until Elaine Hedges [in her "Afterword" to the Feminist Press edition of 1973] called attention to its virtues, praising it as `a small literary masterpiece'" (Schumaker 588). Gilbert and Gubar add, more positively, that, during the years between 1920 and 1973, the story "went unprinted and unread" (1148).(1) A few sources have noted that the story was issued as a thin book in 1899 by Boston publishers Small, Maynard & Company.

Students and scholars of American or women's literature, then, are often immediately exposed to three myths when introduced to "The Yellow Wall-Paper": that it was obscure and underappreciated during its author's lifetime; that it barely escaped a fifty-year oblivion in our own century; and that feminists "recovered" it in 1973. Many excellent critical arguments and student interpretations are directly affected by these basic misconceptions.

True to the story's mysterious nature, even its first publication date has been in some question. Critics Lisa Kasmer, Annette Kolodny, and Janice Haney-Peritz follow Gilbert and Gubar in identifying the date as May 1892, but many sources disagree and put the appearance in The New England Magazine at January 1892. Gilman's autobiography recalls the date as May 1891 (119). This source, however, has proved to be inaccurate on many specifics. Gilman was probably thinking of "The Giant Wistaria," which The New England Magazine printed in its June 1891 issue (Dock 58). Other scholars avoid the minor pitfall by simply listing the date as 1892. However, the 1899 book edition is indeed correct in giving January 1892 as the story's first publication date.

Possibly in order to lend the story a mystique as a previously unappreciated feminist text, most critics and anthologists have adopted a version of the incomplete (and therefore misleading) publishing history above. A few bibliographers, however, have worked to rectify this difficulty. Gary Scharnhorst's 1985 Gilman bibliography lists a total of nine reprintings (one a Finnish translation and one the 1899 book printing) between the 1892 magazine publication and the 1973 Feminist Press edition (60, 63).(2) Recent research on the story in PMLA self-professedly seeks to amend inaccurate Gilman scholarship and claims ten reprintings (Dock 53). These appearances are not specified.(3) However, independent research and collation of several sources reveals well over twenty reprintings(4) of the story before the feminist "recovery" in 1973, laying forever to rest the myth that "The Yellow Wall-Paper" has been obscure during any part of its century of existence. It was printed a fourth time during Gilman's lifetime (1860-1935) in the New York Evening Post of January 21, 1922. A copy of this printing was found in the Gilman Papers at Radcliffe College. The fifth printing was in American Mystery Stories (New York: Oxford UP, 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, 1934). The books containing the fifth and seventh printings are scholarly collections. The Finnish translation by Irene Tokoi appeared in Nykyaika, 15 (June 1934), bringing appearances during Gilman's lifetime to a total of eight.

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

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An Updated Publication History of "The Yellow Wall-Paper"
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