Imagine, if you will, a group of people in ancient times experiencing a natural disaster that not only cuts them off from other cultures and peoples of the world, but has a result that all males die off.    However, consider that one of the remaining women SOMEHOW finds herself pregnant and wa la!    An isolated yet progressive civilization of women survives and thrives over thousands of years.

Charlotte (daughter of  Mary and mother of  Katharine; niece of Isabella, Harriet and Catherine) imagines this female-Utopia and writes about it in Herland.

Thoughts   Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dover Publications 1998 (originally 1915), 124 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:   For the Women Unbound Challenge.  Acquired via Bookmooch.   This might also work for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge because it is set “somewhere” in South America.    This is the first time to read this author and I can blame Litlove‘s comment at my initial Women Unbound Challenge for bringing Charlotte to my attention.

I propose (but am likely wrong) that Charlotte was at the right time (early 20th century) and place (USA) to imagine Herland.   Expeditions around the world were discovering new peoples on our planet, Science was furiously hypothesizing and proposing ideas that astounded the world and women were challenging notions of gender abilities and characteristics.

I had the epiphany thought of “Hey!   This is where the stereotype of AMAZON WOMAN must have come from!?” while reading this.

The setup was clever:    three gentleman go exploring based  on a rumor of a female-only country and this text is the journal that tells what they found.

Copied and tweaked just a bit from Wiki:

Gender and defining it is a central theme in Herland, and Gilman seems to be saying that gender is socially constructed rather than something definitive and unchangeable. For instance, the women of Herland are loving mothers, yet are also strong, independent, and, in some ways, have masculine qualities, such as having short hair.     … out of the three male leads, one seems least afraid of speaking his mind and showing his feelings. It is not unintentional that, when the three male characters are imprisoned by the Herlanders, their hair grows long, which Gilman does to symbolically link them to womenkind. Gender reversal is used throughout the novel: the women have short hair, the men have long hair; the women teach while the men learn; the women are physically stronger than the men, etc.

What I just couldn’t get over was the concept of marriage and why the men were so eager for it.  (oh yea, for the s – e – x?)   And the spontaneous pregnancy concept – even though texts exist today that explore how this may be a future possibility – was too convenient.     And my skeptical mind must protest that just because it is women, that such a society  would OF COURSE be nothing but wonderful – crime-free, disease-free, unpleasantness-free.     I guess, as I believe in HUMANS and am a proponent of love and respect for all, I still have doubts that we can escape the basest of human behaviors just be ridding the planet of one of the genders, cough-cough EXCUSE ME – the male gender.

NOT however to say that Charlotte hated men.     The women of Herland actually embrace the concept of male and study the idea of re-introducing the Y chromosome to their society and I do realize that this story was a way to highlight how HUMAN we all are and should not be labeled with weaknesses and characteristics based on gender.   So I do get it.   I just couldn’t quite suspend the disbelief.

Over all, my vote is for clever, keen and original.

Reading this and then jumping into my next book, Mrs. Dalloway, I find myself wondering what Virginia Woolf thought about Charlotte and her writings.     So excuse me while I go see where such an internet search will lead me…

Many online resources exist for you to read this online if you so desire.   Just google it.



Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

21 thoughts on “Herland

  1. I wonder whether you have read Charlotte Perkins Gilman´s story, The Yellow Wallpaper?

    It is an extraordinary story about the ordeal of a married woman, and as far as I remember, partly based on CPG´s own life. If that is true, I can understand she dreamed up Herland!

    1. I hope to read The Yellow Wallpaper soon. I found Herland was available in bookmooch and alas, TYW was not – so I might have to read the online version. or library.

  2. The description of this book reminds me a bit of Jacqueline Harpman’s I Who Have Never Known Men. I wonder if Harpman read Gilman, or if the fictional situation of a “women’s culture” (a term Offred uses in The Handmaid’s Tale) became a late nineteenth-century commonplace.

  3. I’m with you on the spontanity of the pregnancy being way to convenient. I’ve not read this book, nor would I have picked it up, honestly. But it’s interesting to think of how different cultures and societies have developed after being seperated for an extended time from the rest of humanity. Like the peoples of small pacific islands or mountain tribes, it’s always fascinating to discover how their experiences and suroundings have helped to shape the basic questions mankind has always asked.

  4. historyofshe

    What an interesting concept. It definitely seems like an. . . eye opening read, but i’m sad to hear that there were some too convenient outs. those can really put a damper on a book!~

  5. I’m almost done with it. I’m with you on the way too convenient aspects. There are some things that really irk me about it beyond that — definitely missing something. In fact, Gilman is coming across as just as sexist trying to show how peaceful women are: personally, I think females have a range of personalities, just as men do. No group of females would be quite so conveniently the same and just happen to all be the peaceful mothers type.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Still trying to pull mine together, obviously. I think I’m going to end up labeling it “dystopia” though.

  6. I’ve always been a bit intimidated of this book, though it doesn’t sound frightening at all really. 🙂 I second or third or fourth or whatever the recommendation to read “The Yellow Wallpaper”. It’s gorgeous and terrifying.

    1. You intimidate me, ya know. I always have to look up words from your posts and rarely get any of your cultural references. But I love your enthusiasm and sharp wit. 🙂
      Herland isn’t frightening at all – in fact, the tone is rather friendly. There is an underlying sense of something being made fun of actually. ie, the men/narrator.

  7. I have never read this and I think it sounds scary! But you write a lovely review on it – honest but fair and giving such an evocative impression of the book. Bravo!

  8. I’ve been curious about this one for a long time. My sister read it in college, and she gave me her copy. It’s been sitting on my shelf for too long. Sounds like it gives you a lot to think about.

  9. With regards to convenience…Outside of the story since I can’t discuss the convenience of the pregnancy in relation to the rest of the story…sometimes nature does strange things for convenience to continue a species.

    The text that speculates about single sex reproduction as a viable future for humans also points out how some species will actually change their sex to further the ability to reproduce. The specific example was a small coral reef fish that travels in a small school of one male and a harem of females. Like other species, the male is brightly adorned (blue) and a little larger than the dull and smaller females. If the male leaves the group (caught in a net, dies in a fight, eaten by another fish) the largest of the females will turn into a male, she will turn blue and develop the appropriate anatomy to continue procreation.

    I’m interested in reading this book now specifically for the idea of a sex-free pregnancy and how the author imagined that. There are species of lizard that are completely female and reproduce by cloning while aphids are predominately female and clone although it can redproduce through sex with the few males that are born.

    Okay, I’m done my biology lesson of the day – thanks for the link and the review!

  10. Pingback: The Yellow Wallpaper « Care's Online Book Club

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