Who is on your literary family tree?
Are you interested in genealogy? Do you have a family tree constructed?
Naturally this makes me want to make a literary family tree.
Perhaps now, I will.
Who would I count in my direct line?
I would certainly memoirists, poets, activists and letter writers.
I would count Charlotte Perkins Gilman, writer of the paradigm shifting The Yellow Wallpaper among other things. She was also mother to a Katharine.
I would count Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Diarist, Novelist, early Aviator, Poet and Mother who lived through a lot of her very public life in a very veiled fashion. Her words are absolutely beautiful and she was perpetually standing up for women having the space to write, not unlike another in my direct line: Virginia Woolf.
Somewhere out there is Laura Ingalls Wilder, a childhood favorite and well known Granny, and also Margaret Fuller, whose home I visited not long ago. A couple other Massachusetts literary Aunties: Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson come to mind.
There are many and as this month of Family Roots and Lineage via BlogHer.com continues, I am sure I will uncover and reclaim more.
Today, though, I want to recollect Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She is not a stranger to longtime followers of my blog.
She lived in Pasadena during a heat wave in early Summer, 1890. She sat at her desk on the morning of June 6 and started writing what was to become The Yellow Wallpaper, a novella which changed the way women were treated for Post Partum Depression. Gilman willingly entered her own psyche in what some refer to as a “thinly veiled autobiography.”
I have heard other stories about this: that Gilman was attempting to write an Edgar Allen Poe style tale, primarily to attract a decent sum of money so she could support her family. She wrote for money, after all, since she didn’t make much trying to get the plays she had written produced.
She hadn’t written in her diary for three years when she began writing again just five months prior to this warm June morning.
She was due to give a lecture on “Human Nature” at the Pasadena Nationalist club in just a week. She was intrigued by ghost stories and even read several in a group she attended. It was an optimistic time.
Her first draft of The Yellow Wallpaper was completed before the end of the day on June 7 and a draft, ready to be submitted for publication, was ready to be sent on August 24, 1890, less than ten weeks later.
I doubt she knew when she invested those two days how much her story would impact so many women and for so long. Her diary is filled with entries about teaching drawing classes and lecturing, not “changing the world with my fiction”.
In the course of living and mothering and creating and being a friend and creative collaborator, the future world changing happened without much thought. She wanted to write a story.
She wrote a story.
The world changing would continue to come later, even though she suffered from bouts of depression and lots of criticism and condemnation. It was rejected several times before it was published in January 1892.
For the next two days I will be remembering her and dedicating much of my daily work to her.
What a fabulous thought: sharing my writing family tree with Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Perhaps she is on your literary family tree, too?
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