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Book Discussions > Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

This is our discussion of the Classic SF/F novel...

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
(1915)


message 2: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments I’m already well into this - an interesting read for sure. If you like to read in an academic sense anyway


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I'm going to try to read this one later this month when I get a chance.


message 4: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments Already on page 8 we get the gender role Analysis: “ where there’s motherhood you don’t find sisterhood”

Clearly showing the typical male view of the time.

Unfortunately some feel there’s still truth in the “mommy wars”


message 5: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments I read this one back when it was nominated. I agree with Rachel that its more interesting in an academic way, since there isn't really much plot or drama to speak of. As a commentary on turn-of-the-century gender and social dynamics, its very good. As a biology textbook its more questionable.


message 6: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments I meant to note right away : I have a library version and hat has a lengthy introduction that I decided to wait to read until after I finished so it didn’t color my reading- wondered what others had/did.


message 7: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 2821 comments After having read Caspak and Barsoom I could have sworn that Herland was also written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It has a very similar language and tone, it is very much like Caspak in that it has questionable biological sciences but still an interesting "what if" if you can suspend disbelief. Of course while Burroughs women are decently strong they are generally relegated to the classic damsel in distress category, so that's how you could tell this book was written by someone else.

In the end I don't believe women and men are that drastically different. There are women criminals, power hungry rulers/politicians/CEO's, mental health issues, and just plain unpleasant women, while in Herland they somehow managed to conveniently breed them out of the gene pool. So this uptopia, nice as it is, didn't feel realistic. You can't just take men out of equation and *poof* all problems solved, that's where feminism goes too far, making women perfect and men faulty.

Nor was this society truly perfect, they basically drove that butterfly (among other animals) to extinction to protect their orchards, necessary for their own survival perhaps, but certainly not in harmony with nature as the descriptions seemed to imply (in essence, they are overpopulated and destroyed the existing ecosystem). But then this was a book about gender relations, not the environment.

But, regardless of the bits that didn't work for me, it was still interesting how awkward it is to defend our current society (which hasn't changed all that much from Gilman's time) if say aliens suddenly dropped down on our planet and asked us to to describe ourselves. I know I'd be embarrassed by many things!


message 8: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments My biggest problem with it is the disappearance of any sexual feelings. I can certainly understand why Gilman and contemporaries might think this way - sex was rarely about women having any kind of pleasure or even lack of pain or fear, BUT
I think it more likely that there still would have been sexuality- unless that was also an aberration that was bred out?


message 9: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments I think the point that almost anything we term ‘feminine’ is in fact a reaction/effect of men’s ‘masculinity’ is pretty much just as true today, we are still pretty stuck in that same binary mode. Which there is no solid basis for thinking is ‘natural’ in the human species at this point.


message 10: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments "Because they love it so much - especially men. This animal is kept shut up, or chained."

Methinks this line isn;t really about dogs.....

And it feels so true at least for the author - Did anyone else read The Yellow wallpaper in school?


message 11: by Cat (new)

Cat | 343 comments I'm about two-thirds of the way through, and it's interesting in that academic sense. It does make me wonder - where are the modern utopias?

Utopias were written as an expression of hope and an exploration of how the world could be changed in a positive way (although I remain unconvinced that zero men would be the way to go). Given our modern world (we need hope) you'd think that there would be utopias to inspire people, but instead I can name a lot of dystopian fiction.

Is it because it's easier to write about something going wrong?

Writing a believable utopia seems to be something of a challenge - I feel like this book definitely misses some things eg sexuality as Rachel mentioned. It's been a while since I read other utopian fiction but they all seemed to be written around 1900 (give or take a decade or two) and they all have similarly massive flaws.

I also find it incredibly interesting that the author decided to include what appears to be the development of a romantic/intimate relationship between the three men and the three girls (I'm literally in the middle of that and I'm not sure where it's going). And quite frankly, I just find it bizarre that she's gone from 2000 years of 'we don't need men' to 'oh, well this one seems nice' even the man who is the least nice by their standards gets a girl! Is that because she thinks male/female relationships are inescapable? Anyway, I'll have to see where this goes!


message 12: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments Oh it becomes quite clear why even the ah mysoginist of the group ‘gets’ a girl, although part of the point is that they don’t. The men don’t ‘get’ the girls cause even that phrase is BS 😁

I LOVE the women’s reactions to taking the man’s name. My thoughts exactly!!


message 13: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments Cat wrote: "I'm about two-thirds of the way through, and it's interesting in that academic sense. It does make me wonder - where are the modern utopias?"

I think modern utopias still get written sometimes, although they can't get away with being written in this style, modern readers wouldn't stand for it. Infomocracy and Too Like the Lightning (before things go really wrong) come to mind for me.

This book made me think about comparisons to other female-only utopias in SF to see how they stack up, there's been a few! Rokeya's Ladyland (that actually predates Herland), Tepper's Women's Country, Russ's Whileaway, maybe that place Wonder Woman is from?


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Brendan wrote: "Cat wrote: "I'm about two-thirds of the way through, and it's interesting in that academic sense. It does make me wonder - where are the modern utopias?"

I think modern utopias still get written sometimes..."


Le Guin considered The Dispossessed a utopia (at least for the people of Anarres. (It's subtitled "An Ambiguous Utopia".) The folks back on Urras, not so much. That's not as recent as the titles Brendan mentioned, but modern by Herland standards.


message 15: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 526 comments I think Glory Season might fitin this as well- similar to Gate to Women's Season


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I think Utopian novels were an "in" thing among the late 19th and early 20th century literati. The rapid scientific & engineering advances such as radio, automobiles & airplanes had a lot of novelists thinking we'd soon shed the drearier side of the industrial revolution into a world of wonders & abundance. HG Wells was one of the most prominent such Utopianists.


message 17: by Cat (new)

Cat | 343 comments Ok, so finished now. It was a quaint little book. I can only imagine how radical this book would have been at the time, clearly it had some quite pointed comments about men's attitudes towards women at the time.

Obviously, 100 years later, there are some things that are a bit clunky - the simplistic story, the conformation towards the view that motherhood is the greatest goal of women, the idea that women manage to breed out extremes of emotions, the concept of desire... I'm curious to see how other (more recent) female-only society books tackle some of the issues raised.

I probably wouldn't read it again, but it's filled the pre-1918 slot on the Bingo card and was a quick, relatively easy thoughtful read.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) It's interesting that although this was written a few years prior to Freud's proposal of the structural model of the personality, the three men in this story seem to be a representation of the Ego, Superego, and the Id.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) I finished it and gave it 3 stars. It wasn't much of a story, mostly just an opportunity for Gilman to discuss early 20th Century attitudes towards women and their roles in society. But it must have been quite cutting edge at the time. I'm glad I read it.


message 20: by Andrea (last edited Jul 26, 2018 10:15AM) (new)

Andrea | 2821 comments In case anyone was interested in other single-gendered SF there's a blog post on Tor.com (Herland got a mention but they didn't really discuss it, though The Stars are Legion a small paragraph)

What’s With Sci-Fi’s Fixation on Single-Gendered Planets?


message 21: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments "The novels of Stanislaw Lem are very low-grade ore when it comes to finding women characters. Lem’s protagonists often struggled to communicate with the truly alien. Judging by the dearth of women in his books, however, women were too alien for Lem."

Laughed at this, because it's quite accurate. Also true of Asimov's early books, though he got better, and then worse again.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Andrea wrote: "In case anyone was interested in other single-gendered SF there's a blog post on Tor.com (Herland got a mention but they didn't really discuss it, though The Stars are Legion a small paragraph)

What’s With Sci-Fi’s Fixation on Single-Gendered Planets? ..."


Kind of a major spoiler for the Tiptree story, though I guess the only alternative would be to leave it off the list, which isn't much a solution.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Brendan wrote: "Also true of Asimov's early books, though he got better, and then worse again. ."

You consider Susan Calvin a Wino (Woman In Name Only) ?


message 24: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments Calvin was more of a plot device than a character. I do think Arkady Darell was a pretty good character though.


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