October 5, 2010

Howells, Scudder, Gilman: Pretty blood curdling

"The author wished me to send you this," William Dean Howells wrote to Horace Scudder (pictured at left) on October 5, 1890. "It's pretty blood curdling, but strong, and is certainly worth reading." The story Howells sent along with his letter was "The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Scudder, by then, had replaced Howells as editor of The Atlantic Monthly some nine years earlier. Gilman had herself referred to "The Yellow Wall-Paper" as "my awful story," and reported that her husband called it "a ghastly tale... [which] beats Poe and Doré!" She admitted it was "a simple tale, but highly unpleasant."

Scudder, a reverend, apparently agreed. In fact, he found it a bit too ghastly. To Gilman, he wrote a two-sentence letter:

Mr. Howells has handed me this story. I could not forgive myself if I made others as miserable as I have made myself!

This somewhat curt letter was Scudder's only notice to Gilman that he chose not to publish the story in The Atlantic Monthly. It did not see print until the January 1892 issue of The New England Magazine. Howells disagreed with his friend's opinion. In 1920, he included "The Yellow Wall-Paper" in his collection of The Great Modern American Stories.

*For more information, see Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall-Paper: A Sourcebook and Critical Edition, edited by Catherine J. Golden.

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