Dixie Diamond's Reviews > Herland

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
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Jun 22, 09

bookshelves: women, fiction, 1910s, my_books
Read in June, 2009

Three stars: Five stars as a period piece, one as a work of literature.

Mine is the 1979 edition whose preface claims it is still relevant. Perhaps that, too, is an indication of a past phase of feminism, because the story has really not aged very well.

The writing is awful. Sorry. I know that it was originally serialized in Gilman's magazine, which might account for the shallow, unpolished quality of it, but it makes for tiresome reading in novella form.

I hesitate to criticize Herland too much because Gilman was so obviously a product of her time and social class that it's almost impossible to evaluate her in modern terms. The work is clearly a reaction against extreme male domination of society and is absurd if it is divorced from its original context. It seems as if the best testament to just how limited women were in 1915 is the painfully-restricted scope of what even an ardent feminist could envision for her gender. I was struck in particular by the apparent inability to develop much technology, and the narrator's statement that Herland had been unable to generate much of a science of geology; I'm sure my mother, who did graduate work in crystal physics, would find that darkly amusing. It seems that even radical women saw the talents of their sex as primarily organic and not scientific or mathematical.

What strikes me most in this novel is that Gilman managed to depict women in a way that was revolutionary and yet still to stereotype them. The robotic, heterogeneous inhabitants of Herland--all of them beautiful, athletic, rational, and wise--seem nearly as objectified as the shrinking-violet heroines produced by contemporary male authors.
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06/19/2009 page 36
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Kanika Hadn't much thought about the stereotype yet
Interesting point

Melody I'm so glad someone else felt the same way, I kept feeling that there was something that I missed or did not understand.

Dixie Diamond Well, as I said, I don't really want to come down too hard on the author because it's not really fair to criticize from a modern standpoint. One of the many, many, things, though, about which I wish I had time to find out more is why Gilman omitted hard science from her utopia. Was it so foreign to her that she either didn't think to or didn't know how to include it? Was it part of her rebellion against male domination, since the hard sciences have traditionally been a male domain? Did she consider hard science "cold"? But then why reject it in favor of the more stereotypically feminine tack she took?

Melody I feel that her intent was simply to show how different the world could be. I could see that if she did hold extreme feminist views, which I do not think she did, it would be driven with the intent to reject any of the traditionally male-dominated sciences. But that would also mean that in her version of a female utopia, the women were unable to make the discoveries that were made in the rest of the world. It may also be as simple as different people, different ideas.

Dixie Diamond She was pretty radical for her time, in thought if not so much in action.

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