With a passing interest in history, particularly ancient history, when I took a BA in English Literature I felt I was consigning that interest to a vague hobby, pushing it to the background of my life. However, I found my slight craving for history more than satisfied during my course; fictional work can be a more insightful window into the past than non-fictional accounts. Authors examine, explore and challenge their own worlds, push boundaries and social issues relevant to their times; their attitudes are also shaped by their environments. By reading literature from, for example, the early Victorian era, I learned a lot about many different aspects of Victorian society. In particular, some disturbing truths about the treatment of mental illness in women.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper depicts a new mother who is, we assume, suffering from post-natal depression. She’s consigned to an attic room as isolation is believed to be good for her. Her condition is blamed on a maligned womb or hysteria, and she is consistently presented with a child that inspires conflicting emotions in her. To spoil the ending, the protagonist increasingly feels that there is a woman trapped behind the peeling yellow wallpaper of her attic room turned prison cell. Her husband enters to find her gone completely mad, having clawed off the wallpaper and become that wallpaper woman; her final words are that he can never put her back behind the paper again. In a way, losing her mind has freed the protagonist from his control.


Perhaps that’s why I have so many snippets of information on so many topics, yet no in-depth knowledge as literature offers insight into a variety of issues and themes. Freud’s theory of the uncanny is one snippet that stuck with me, learned in connection to a module on the gothic novel; that which is both familiar but strange. A haunted house, for instance. A house being a familiar image and environment for all of us, turned unfamiliar and unsettling. The same theory applies to dolls, creepy children in horror movies, ghosts, vampires and werewolves; all are most effective in frightening people precisely because a part of our minds tells us that what we’re seeing is safe and comfortable, or should be. Imagine coming home to find a possessed loved one acting creepy and sinister, it’s a thought that is much more disturbing than that of encountering a creepy, sinister stranger.


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written around the same time that Geoffrey Chaucer was writing his Canterbury Tales. Difficult as the latter is to read in its original form, Sir Gawain is nearly impossible as its anonymous writer was from the North Midlands, and his dialect of English did not survive the test of time. It is Chaucer’s dialect that’s the ancestor of our language today. All of these voices from the past give a better depiction of cultures, societies and attitudes long since lost; less coherent and solid than non-fictional, historical accounts. But no less important, and perhaps even more immersive if you love learning about history. 

About the author

A chronic idiot with a passion for travelling and writing and travel writing, Rosie graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in English Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing. Whilst she aspires to be the next Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Dr. Seuss or E.L. James, Rosie prepares to enter the adult world and become a responsible member of society. Both of her university degrees go toward making terrible jokes, rambling blog posts and reading the popular literature that we all feel obligated to read. When she’s not sat in front of her laptop, Rosie can be found just about anywhere. With Iceland, Thailand, Barcelona and Belgium under her belt, there’s still the rest of the world to experience.

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