October 17, 2019 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
(Sorry for the premature posting of this one – the phone app for WordPress isn’t quite as handy as the desktop version.)
It may become apparent that I do much of my reading for game- and writing-related purposes. It is not because I do not enjoy reading, quite the contrary. But with several homunculi underfoot, time must be made for reading, rather than simply being the happy byproduct of leisure. To be honest, my only down time is when all three of the wee ones are asleep.
Having read Chamber’s various King in Yellow connected stories, I continued through many of the tales that Lovecraft discussed in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”. One of those that I found relatively easy to track down was Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” which Lovecraft describes thusly:
“The Yellow Wallpaper” rises to a classic level in subtly delineating the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered room where a madwoman was once confined.
I suspect that almost everyone has read this story so I will refer anyone looking for a summary here; the full text is HERE. If you haven’t read it, or if you want a refresher, may I suggest the H.P. Lovecraft Literary podcast’s reading of it?
I liked the story a great deal at the time – I think I had a found it in a standard American Literature survey anthology but for the life of me (and despite a bit of searching) I am not sure which one. I found the story engrossing, unnerving, all the more so due to the author’s use of an unreliable but deeply sympathetic narrator. The imagery of the woman crawling behind the wallpaper was arresting – I remember a year or two later looking at some ancient and ghastly wallpaper uncovered during the repair of a light socket in the apartment we were living in thinking that it was ugly and insane enough to merit a crawling lady or two.
I had the germ of a scenario come to mind after reading this story – a woman confined in an attic room for many years causes reality itself to warp in such a way that after she died the house was still a reflection of that madness, forever wrapping itself inwards towards the annihilation of the self. I could never find the right structure to allow investigators to take an active role in resolving the mystery or escaping the nightmare rooms – I also feared it hewed too close to Dennis Detwiller’s “Night Floors” and might be accused of simply playing copycat. It is still floating somewhere in my mind, awaiting the proper spark of inspiration that will allow it to burst forth, Athena like from my skull.
A few years later, much to my delight, one of the earliest submissions we had for the first regular issue of the Arkham Gazette was “The Bosworth House” by Ben Wenham that was explicitly inspired by this story. Ben made great use of the human element of the horror, adding an element of conflict between investigators as everyone perceives the titular house differently and likely only one investigator views the house as anything other than mundane… which I may or may not be… (You can get yourself a copy here.) One clever element that Ben added to his scenario was linking the mysterious woman behind the wallpaper with the poem “Antigonish” (by William Hughes Mearns) and its “Man Who Wasn’t There”, if only in the mind of the house’s most recent victim.
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!”
When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…
Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…