HERLAND by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Email this review


It should be time for a full-scale biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose contributions to feminist and socialist thought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries now regularly come to light in even the most desultory women's studies programs. She is best known for the novel The Yellow Wallpaper (a work of pioneering insight into the relationship between male-dominated psychotherapy and women's emotional disorders) and the still-challenging Women and Economics. Herland, we are informed in Ann J. Lane's introduction, was serialized in 1915 in Gilman's monthly magazine The Forerunner and followed by the sequel With Her in Ourland. As Utopian fantasies go, it is decidedly third-rate, but it does afford a fascinating glimpse into her particular blend of feminist and socialist ideas. Three American explorers discover a hidden kingdom of women, who have known nothing but parthenogenesis and peace for two thousand years. Ignorant alike of competition, libido, or patriotism, they live by an ethos they call ""Motherhood""--not a private instinct ""thwarted by conditions"" or ""concentrated in personal devotion to a few,"" but a national answer to the question of ""how to make the best kind of people."" The concept of private gain is as unknown as that of psychosis, and the community has merely to understand the best course of action--for example, limitations of population--to pursue it. Worthy though these notions are, it would take a novelist of powers far more remarkable than Gilman's to make this sort of fictional embodiment sound anything but goody-goody. And notwithstanding Lane's loud insistence on the hilarity of the attempt to comment on prevailing social mores, the satire is for the most part both thin and monotonous (""And do no men wear feathers in their hats?"" ""Do your women have no names before they are married?""). So this is a document for which rather large allowances have to be made, but it may well stimulate a demand for the reissue of more of Gilman's writings.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1979
ISBN: 1421811189
Publisher: Pantheon