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Submitted Literature

Dr. Clair's Place

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Review

Dr Clair’s Place is a short story detailing the cure of a suicidal and desperate woman who stays at a sanatorium in California, designed and run by a former teacher, Dr. Clair. The narrator recounts meeting the desperate lady in question, Octavia Welch, and recommending that she visit Dr. Clair, who cured the narrator herself during a difficult period of her own. Near the end of the story, we hear, in the form of a letter, what Octavia reports to the narrator about her time at Dr. Clair’s Place, and that she now considers herself ‘well’ (p. 288). The cures described at Dr. Clair’s place are rest, measured physical exercise, stimulation and mild activity, which is in stark contrast to the ‘‘rest cure’’ proposed by some physicians at the time, described in another of Perkins Gilman’s short stories, The Yellow Wall-Paper. Those who paid to lodge at Dr. Clair’s place were given the agency to choose how best to manage their symptoms, at first with extended rest periods, then a choice of music, light, taste or smell-based therapies, all of which the lodger was free to administer themselves, and which they were asked to measure the success rates of. The doctor-patient relationship is also outlined, with the narrator saying Dr. Clair spoke to her ‘not as a physician to a patient, but as an inquiring scientific searcher for valuable truths’ (p. 286). Those who recovered at the sanatorium could become an ‘Associate’ (p. 288), as was the case for Octavia Welch.

 

As in The Yellow Wall-Paper, the question of childbearing and difficulties with mood is at the forefront of this narrative. We learn of Octavia that she ‘had and lost’ motherhood (p. 280), which calls to mind the narrator of Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper undergoing a ‘‘rest cure’’ due to difficulties following the birth of a child. The contrast between the ‘‘rest cure’’ seen in The Yellow Wall-Paper and the collaborative treatments outlined in Dr. Clair’s Place is stark. Though the question of accessibility of treatment is important here (all treatments seem to have been payable, hints the narrator, though the board with Dr. Clair was ‘cheap’ (p. 283)), it seems that the treatments offered were largely given to all people needing them, from ‘psychopathic cases’ (p. 283) to those experiencing ‘overwhelming waves of despair’ (p. 286). Whilst the treatments may not have been available to those who could not pay for them, the narrator’s praise for the methods employed and the agency given to patients is clear. The ‘‘cure’’ for the narrator’s problems in this short story seems to have been person-centred, compassionate, and structured, giving as much agency as possible to the patient.

Key Themes:

  • Cure

Significant Quotes / Pages

p. 280 - ‘Not a bad looking woman, but so sunk in internal misery that her expression was that of one who had been in prison for a lifetime.’

p. 281 – ‘“You can’t leave your mind for an autopsy very well, but there’s one thing you can do – if you will; and that is, give this clear and prolonged self-study you have made, to a doctor I know who is profoundly interested in neurasthenia - melancholia - all that kind of thing. I really think you’d be a valuable - what shall I say - exhibit.”’

p. 282/3 – ‘“The trouble with Sanatoriums,” said Dr. Clair to me - we were friends since the teaching period, and when I broke down at my teaching I came to her and was mended - “is that the sick folks have nothing to do but sit about and think of themselves and their ‘cases’. Now I let the relatives come too; some well ones are a resource; and I have one or more regularly engaged persons whose business it is to keep them busy - and amused.”’

p. 284 – ‘I was dead - worse than dead-buried-decayed-gone to foul dirt. In my body I still walked heavily - but out of accumulated despair I had slowly gathered enough courage to drop that burden.’

p. 285 – [Dr. Clair] ‘“Please understand – I do not undertake to cure you; I do not criticize in the least your purpose to leave an unbearable world. That I think is the last human right – to cut short unbearable and useless pain.”’

p. 285 – ‘“You can do anything you want to,” I said. “Even hurt – what’s a little more pain? – if it’s any use.”’

p. 287 – ‘To come down from a day on the mountain, to dip deep in that pure water and be rubbed by my ever careful masseuse; to eat heartily of the plain and delicious food, and sleep – out of doors now, on a pine needle bed – that was new life.

 

My misery and pain and shame seemed to fade into a remote past, as a wholesome rampart of bodily health grew up between me and it.’

Reference: Charlotte, Perkins Gilman. 1915. Dr. Clair's Place. Penguin, 2009

Reviewer

Ms Hannah Loret-Howick
Date Review Submitted: Tuesday 5th December 2017