The Yellow Wallpaper

We arrived at our holiday apartment in London, looked around (delighted) brought in the luggage (vast) and settled down on lovely sofas with a glass of wine (exhausted). Then The Clever One started to tell me a story she had heard on the radio the day before.

A woman was staying in an attic room in an old house. Every day from her attic she saw her husband go off to work in the morning and come home in the evening. At first all was well, but soon she started to notice that there was a line developing around the walls where the wallpaper had been scratched away, just above the skirting at first, but getting higher and higher each day. The woman was completely trapped in this attic room, literally locked in, and frightened because more of the wallpaper was disappearing each day until the whole wall was bare at least as high as she could reach. It was a sinister story, a ghost story perhaps.

Throughout the story I had shown a mild interest –  all I could muster after a long day – but I thought I did pretty well.  Soon afterwards I fished around in various bags to bring out one of the huge number of books I had brought with me. I had chosen a book of sermons by Archbishop Carnelly, one time Archbishop of Australia, called ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. When The Clever One walked into the room and saw the book she exclaimed “that’s it! That’s the story I heard on the radio yesterday. It was called ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”. We checked it out more closely and yes, the sermon of that title after which the book had been named was based on the same story heard on the radio.

It turns out that the woman was in the attic for her own good because her doctor husband thought it would be good for her after getting pregnant to be isolated, to ‘rest up’. She hated it, and gradually fell into increasing insanity, which expressed itself by her gradually stripping the yellow wallpaper off the wall. In her mind the wallpaper held the demons she was trying to exorcise. She locked herself in the room and threw the key out of the window so no-one could get in. By the time the husband came to his senses and broke into the room (clever but not bright, it turns out) she had stripped all the wallpaper off all the walls as high as she could reach. In the words of Archbishop Carnelly, a chilling story of insanity.

Unsurprisingly this was the sermon I read that night. Also unsurprisingly I paid attention. That’s what serendipity is for. When we notice it.

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