Friday the 13th: Two Tales to Chill You
It's Friday the 13th, and in the spirit of spookiness we'd like to share with you two classic short stories sure to set you ashiver. Both were written in the late 1800s.
First up is The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892). This is a favourite for many, and with good reason. Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper in response to a personal experience in which she was instructed by a physician to “live as domestic a life as far as possible” and to “never touch pen, brush, or pencil again.” After three months, on the brink of mental ruin, she “went to work again – work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite – ultimately recovering some measure of power.”
The Yellow Wallpaper reportedly saved some women from suffering a similar fate. As Perkins Gilman stated in her 1913 article, “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper”, “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.”
The story: A woman keeps a diary whilst summering at a colonial mansion with her physician husband. She mentions being ill, but qualifies it by saying there’s “really nothing wrong ... but a temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency”, and shares her suspicion that her husband is part of the problem: “John is a physician, and perhaps – (I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind –) perhaps that is the one reason I do not get well faster. You see he does not believe I am sick!”
Despite not believing his wife is sick, John has forbidden her to work until she’s well, when “personally, [she] believe[s] that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do [her] good.” John has also forbidden her to think about her condition, and so instead she turns her focus to the house: its appearance, the garden, and in particular and with increasing mania, the yellow wallpaper in her room: “One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin” in “a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.” She grows increasingly obsessed with the wallpaper, and as her diaries progress it becomes clear that she’s going mad.
It’s a wonderfully disturbing, thought-provoking read, and depending on how quickly you read, it’ll likely take you no more than 10 to 15 minutes to finish it. A PDF of The Yellow Wallpaper is available here.
If you, like me, are planning to have a spooky movie night tonight in celebration of Friday the 13th, two films that complement The Yellow Wallpaper nicely are Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow (2016) and Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009).
This second recommendation makes a good chaser for spookier fare. It starts scary but ends with a laugh. It's Mark Twain's A Ghost Story (1888).
A man takes a room in an old building, only to discover late at night a possible reason for its long-unoccupied state. I have to admit that I only remembered the first and spookiest part of the story, probably because my brain is a bit of a sadist and seemingly takes great pleasure in retaining only the most torturous details of any story, experience or otherwise... But even with the ending that I forgot, it’s a fun read. This is more of a traditional ghost story – the things that go bump in the night sort. And it’s shorter than The Yellow Wallpaper, if you’re seeking a short scare.
There are also some fun audio versions of A Ghost Story on YouTube, if you’d prefer to hear it.
Complementary film recommendations for A Ghost Story are Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) or, for something a bit more modern, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity (2007).
What are your favourite scary stories? Tell us in the comments section.
Wishing you all a spooky Friday the 13th!
All of the quotations, and most of the information in the first two paragraphs of this article come from Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper", The Forerunner (October 1913)