There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. – Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper
A young woman sits primly in a high-backed wooden chair. She wears what looks like a late Edwardian dress, and her hair is pulled back. She exudes stillness; one might imagine that she’d be just as still were this a moving picture rather than a photograph. Yet her stillness does not seem to be that of relaxation, but of composure: She holds the fingers of one hand in the other; surely, if her hands were left free rather than posed, they would simply hang there. Her feet are placed side-by-side, flat on the ground, and her knees are held together, which takes conscious effort, if minimal. It seems that what tension there is in her body is put towards containing it, restricting its potential for sloppiness (and the character associations therewith) and assuming a conventionally lady-like posture. She stares out towards a light source out-of-frame, which might be a window or door.
Alone, it would be a beautiful image: pensive, poetic, a study in what physical composure and a distant gaze can convey. But behind the sitter, blurred from movement, a naked girl swings from the doorjamb, a wild apparition at odds with the placidity of the foreground. She faces away from the sitter, and isn’t obviously engaged with or even aware of her at all, but it’s hard not to infer some psychic relationship between the two. In fact the contrast between them almost presumes a connection, the self-possessed gentlewoman and the stifled desires and impulses rioting behind her serene visage. (continue reading)