Mad women? from Attica to Attic

The title for this brief post is a bit cryptic and inspired by my reaction to Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and the way in which this story appears to continue a literary tradition of connecting strong females with madness, one of the earliest and most obvious examples being Medea. Gilman’s narrator is not, strictly speaking, confined to an Attic, a virtual convention of the gothic story. But her imprisonment in a upstairs Nursery establishes a strong connection to Rochester’s “mad” wife in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, itself a remote echo of Medea. What is one to do with a nonconforming woman? Send her into exile, or lock her up?

Medea kills her children, and Gilman’s narrator cannot establish a bond with her child. At first glance, the cliche of the unnatural, monstrous female seems safely established. Yet neither Euripides or Gilman conform to so much as challenge this stereotype. While the narrator and Medea are strong willed, nonconformist, socially isolated, and drift progressively deeper into seeming madness, is it these characters that are mad and monstrous, or the worlds they inhabit? John and Jason, it seems, have a lot in common.



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