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Herland (1915)

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Utopias (2)

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2,360665,313 (3.46)168
Delightfully humorous account of a feminist utopia in which 3 male explorers stumble upon an all-female society. An early 20th-century writer's once-unconventional views on male-female behavior, motherhood, individuality, other topics.

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» See also 168 mentions

English (61)  Finnish (2)  Hungarian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
I'd heard mixed reviews of this early 20th-Century novel, so I was surprised and delighted to find a great piece of feminist utopian writing. It holds up as that, but also as a short novel. No mere diatribe here! The tone sounds young and hip even a century later.

That all said, there are some charming archaisms. The emphasis on female pocket-wearing, for example. (see also Carlson, Hannah. Stella Blum Grant Report: Idle Hands and Empty Pockets: Postures of Leisure. Dress, Volume 35 - 2008-2009) And the pages devoted to the feral dog and cat problem, which we have since more or less solved thanks to cheap and safe sterilization.

Gilman really thought of everything here. All of the feminist issues we've been debating for the last century (many we are debating still) she gives a proposal for how it could be different.

My only quibble, and this is hardly fair of me, is that she talks not at all about the importance of female friendship and love. She was making an argument to a straight male audience (and straight female, for that matter) and so I can understand why she avoided the subject of romantic friendships altogether, but I can't help feeling a little disappointed anyway.

( )
  AlainaZ | Jun 5, 2022 |
A classic of early feminist literature which pits late-Victorian-era men against a land full of women. These women have their own 2,000 year old history through parthenogenesis and seem to have solved all of society's problems.

The basic premise is a team of three "buddies" intentionally crash-land their bi-plane near an undiscovered country, and each is a typical male: Terry the philanderer who sees all women as passive conquests; Jeff the anthropologist who worships all women; and the narrator who, well, is a narrator.

The women they encounter are strong, agile, and full of questions about the culture and customs of the world outside Herland. What are the Mothers like in their world? How are children brought up? What are pets, and why are animals kept in the first place? How is food grown and distributed?

Each man is given a teacher, whom he eventually marries in a ceremony that is more for the men's benefit than for the women's. Alima chooses to marry Terry, Ellador the narrator, and Celis for Jeff. Which I suppose is an inevitable plotline of this book.

The impact that this book had on my worldview during my mid-20s is still ongoing. The idea that some women are better at raising children than a mother, a woman's body being strong along with her mind being inquisitive, and marriage being a bond between two equals are part of my adult foundations. ( )
  threadnsong | Jan 29, 2022 |
This one is tough because I recognize the counterargument Gilman was making to convention at the time, and that's great. But it's also very squarely white feminism, includes moments of blatant racism, and according to the introduction Gilman held anti-Semitic views as well. There were some great thought-provoking points that make me sad we're still having the same issues over a century later. While Gilman's overall point to challenge society's views of women was successful, I was disappointed by how one-dimensional Herland's women were in being 100% focused on motherhood. This book is an important stepping stone in feminist literature, but it hasn't aged well in parts. ( )
  hissingpotatoes | Dec 28, 2021 |
I like Herland even more than 1911’s Moving The Mountain, and almost as much as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which I think is one of the finest short stories. Although Gilman is famous for being a feminist, I don’t think she gets as much credit as she deserves for being a speculative fiction writer.

Three male explorers hear of a country that consists only of women, so they decide to check it out, and with great trouble make their way in. Jeff is a tender soul who glorifies motherhood and believes in being a perfect gentleman to women. Terry is a handsome man about town, kind of rapey and full of himself, and he thinks women should be pretty and serve him. The narrator, Vandyck Jennings, is sort of in-between these two and in general presents a “rational” point of view.

They are amazed to discover a beautiful utopia populated only by women, with wildly different customs from their own. In this country they don’t have poverty, they raise their children communally, they wear comfy clothes, etc. Long ago, a volcanic eruption and slave uprising led to a group of women who were cut off from the rest of the world. A few of them were miraculously able to reproduce as the result of sort of an exalted mental state, and this ability was passed down through the generations. There are so many novels about all-female societies where this happens—Ammonite by Nicola Griffith and Jane Fletcher’s Celaeno series spring to mind—but Herland must be the first.

The women the three explorers meet are all strong, intelligent, athletic, good teachers, and able to get things done. They confound the explorers’ expectations at every turn because they have no idea how to “behave like women.” Gilman takes the gender binary away and everyone becomes a person; however, she certainly has a rosy view of how nice an all-female society, or any society, could be.

The three explorers each fall in love and insist on marrying their sweethearts, which the women agree to in order to humor them, although marriage is a meaningless concept to them. All this time there has been no romantic love in the country because, well, when the men are gone, it’s just impossible! But they haven’t been missing it.

Terry and his wife Alima don’t get along. He attempts to rape her, but she kicks him in the balls and summons help from her friend in the room next door. Terry is put on trial, and the local Over Mother sentences him to be sent back to the outside world, with his word as a gentleman not to tell anyone about their country. At first Terry is obstinate.

“The first thing I’ll do is to get an expedition fixed up to force an entrance into Ma-Land!”
“Then,” they said quite calmly, “he must remain an absolute prisoner always.”
“Anesthesia would be kinder,” urged Moadine.
“And safer,” added Zava.
“He will promise, I think,” said Ellador [Jennings’ wife.]
And he did.

(This part reminded me of Houston, Houston, Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr.)

So Terry leaves, with Jennings and Ellador to escort him.
Next year is the sequel! From Gilman’s Wikipedia page I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know about her, including the fact that she married her first cousin, and that when she was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer she “chose chloroform over cancer” (her words.) ( )
  jollyavis | Dec 14, 2021 |
Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was published in 1915. The setting of a lost matriarchal society, stumbled upon by a small expedition is strongly reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The lost world, published just three years earlier in 1912.

Herland doesn't present much of a story or description of the environs. It is more of a social science fiction novel contrasting our world with a possible alternative reality, but as such the story is a bit boring. ( )
  edwinbcn | Dec 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Charlotte Perkins Gilmans Sozialutopie "Herland" ist ein reines Lehrstück. Die Figuren sind nicht plastisch gezeichnet, auch die Umgebung bleibt seltsam farblos. Es geht der Autorin offensichtlich vor allem darum, aufzuzeigen, welche Möglichkeiten in der weiblichen Hälfte der Menschheit stecken. Deshalb bleibt eine schwarz/weiß, gut/böse Einteilung nicht aus.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charlotte Perkins Gilmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lane, Ann J.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waterhouse, John WilliamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilhelm, SabineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Charlotte Perkins Gilman is not ordinarily thought of as a humorist, but her feminist utopia, Herland, is a very funny book.
This is written from memory, unfortunately.
We were not in the least "advanced" on the woman question, any of us, then.
They were inconveniently reasonable, those women.
They said: "With our best endeavors this country will support about so many people, with the standard of peace, comfort, health, beauty, and progress we demand. Very well. That is all the people we will make."
You see, they were Mothers, not in our sense of helpless involuntary fecundity, forced to fill and overfill the land, every land, and then see their children suffer, sin, and die, fighting horribly with one another; but in the sense of Conscious Makers of People.
We are used to seeing what we call "a mother" completely wrapped up in her own pink bundle of fascinating babyhood, and taking but the faintest theoretic interest in anybody else's bundle, to say nothing of the common needs of all the bundles. But these women were working all together at the grandest of tasks — they were Making People — and they made them well.
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Delightfully humorous account of a feminist utopia in which 3 male explorers stumble upon an all-female society. An early 20th-century writer's once-unconventional views on male-female behavior, motherhood, individuality, other topics.

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