open.conted.ox.ac.uk (beta)

Open Educational Resources

‘Dead Paper’: The Deconstruction of Patriarchy by Nineteenth-Century Women Writers by Isabella Green

This article examines the written word as a form of liberation in the nineteenth century, centring on two artefacts which demonstrate attempts to prevent female expression and self-representation: the correspondence of Charlotte Brontë and Robert Southey in 1837, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper in 1892. I begin by laying out pre-existing social attitudes towards women and the marked increase of the diagnosis of hysteria and confinement as a result of perceived female insanity. This brought about practices such as the rest cure, which was mainly used for the treatment of nervous disorders. Gilman, who herself underwent this treatment, uses the suffering of the narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper to demonstrate the psychological damage she experienced. Both artefacts highlight the patriarchal belief that women were inherently inferior to men, and perpetuate the idea that writing ought to be an exclusively male pursuit – or, at best, only for women to do in private. I compare themes of female duty, imprisonment, and infantilization in both artefacts. Ultimately, I argue that Brontë’s second letter to Southey and the ending of Gilman’s short story emerge as triumphs within patriarchal prisons.

Date created: 
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
Attribution for this resource:
‘Dead Paper’: The Deconstruction of Patriarchy by Nineteenth-Century Women Writers by Isabella Green, All rights reserved.