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The ‘rest cure’, a morbid curiosity

Published date: April 18, 2017
Last modified: April 18, 2017


This July there will be a distinct chill in the air as The Secret Space in the cellars of Erasmus Darwin house are filled with the ghosts of nineteenth century. This summer ‘Morbid Curiosities: Don’t Go Into The Cellar’ will be showing how the female of the species can be even deadlier than the male with performances from three Victorian women who are masters of the ghost story.

The Yellow Wallpaper is one of the stories being adapted for these chilling performances. This story sees a young woman prescribed the ‘rest cure’ by her caring, but misguided husband, whilst suffering with what is assumed to be post-natal depression. However, restricted to the confines of her bed, and barred from writing the narrator is plagued by her own morbid thoughts. Soon she sees a woman in the wallpaper and this woman starts walking… It’s not long before this wallpaper woman is no longer happy to be confined to her swirling yellow prison…

However, The Yellow Wallpaper is more than a chilling ghost story; it is also an important piece of early feminist literature. The real horror of this story is not the creeping, lurking, female narrator in attic, but the prescription of the ‘rest cure’ which drives her into the lurid depths of the nursery wallpaper. Prior to writing The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman had been put on bed rest, and believed it to drive her to a near mental breakdown, not dissimilar to the narrator of her short story. Virginia Woolf too, also famously criticised the ‘rest cure’, and claimed that whilst confined to bed she heard the birds singing in Ancient Greek.

The rest cure, whilst prescribed to both men and women, was predominantly used as a treatment for the latter. Patients’ activities were restricted, Perkins for example was told not to write. Friends and family were also barred from visiting, resulting in almost total isolation of the patient. As well as this, patients were fed and bathed by nurses, despite many being physically capable of doing these tasks themselves, making women entirely dependent upon others. Gilman claimed that after the publication of her story Silas Weir Mitchel, inventor of the cure stopped prescribing the rest cure, however he kept using it until as late as 1908…

Luckily, the ‘rest cure’ is one morbid Victorian curiosity you won’t be subject to! Although, if you’re not too scared to step into the Cellar, and confront the ghosts lurking down there, make sure to book your tickets soon, as they’re selling fast! Click here to book now!


Find out more about Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the rest cure here:


Ellie Turner-Kilburn

Marketing Intern