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The Rest Cure by Karianne Goulet 

 

In a lot of women writers’ books can be found the recurrent theme of the rest cure. This treatment, first invented by the doctor Silas Weir Mitchel in the late 1800’s, was not really efficient, and most of the time contributed to worsen the cases of the patients. It was mostly prescribed for women who lived in the United States and the United Kingdom, after they had had a depression (the post partum depression after giving birth), anorexia, or anxiety. This treatment, imposed on women under the patriarchal system, was about confining them to their beds, overfeeding them in order to make them gain weight, isolating them from other people (often for 6 to 8 weeks), and giving them massage (sometimes with electrical shocks, or electrotherapy)in order to maintain their muscle tone. It was used also on women who had a creative mind and who wanted to express themselves too much according to men’s tastes. As a result, these women, who were not crazy, were sometimes driven mad when deprived of any occupation, such as writing, talking, sewing or reading. They were basically maintained at the same level of young children, with no rights whatsoever.

          In ‘’ The Yellow Wallpaper’’, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an author who went through this experience, wrote about the wife of a doctor who is forced into a rest cure after giving birth. At one point after discussing her state, her husband

mentions the inventor of this said ‘’rest cure’’ when he tells his wife that if she doesn’t get well soon she will be sent there:’’John says if I don’t pick up faster he shall send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.’’ It is quite clear that John, the man of the house, has all the power (because of his sex and of his career) and that she must obey because she has no power to reply. He doesn’t like her to express herself and writes. That’s one of the reasons she has to hide her journal from her family, which causes an additional worry to her nervous state: ‘’I did write for a while in spite of them; but it DOES exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.’’ She is not free at all. As the story goes on, she starts to see things moving in the wallpaper and the reader then wonder if she has become crazy by then.  

          In the novel by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, there is the character of Bertha Mason, the wife of Mr. Rochester, who is locked up in the attic and hidden from all to see because she has turned mad according to her husband. He tells Jane Eyre that madness was running in the veins of the members of Bertha’s family, and that if he had known it, he would never have married her. Maybe being abducted from everything that she knew to be put in a cold new country didn’t helped her to feel integrated in the British society. Bertha is forced to rest in her bed and is watched over by Grace Poole, so that she can’t escape. She cannot speak to anybody nor leave the room, she cannot walk in the house and do as she pleases. She is so despised that in her description, her madness gives her the appearance of a beast: ‘’what it was, whether beast or human, one could not, at first sight, tell: it grovelled, seemingly on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal.’’ No wonder, after such a treatment, she decided to end her life by committing suicide. Confined to the private sphere, women hadn’t much chance to be heard and be able to change their situation.

 

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Cited Works

Brönte, Charlotte. (1847) Jane Eyre. Penguin Classics

 

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. ‘‘The Yellow Wallpaper’’

 

Science Museum Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine, ‘’the Rest Cure’’ 20 November 2011 http://193.62.111.58/broughttolife/techniques/restcure.aspx

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© Martine Pelletier