Daily Archives: May 22, 2009

Herland by Charlotte Gilman

Herland‘s subtitle is “A lost Feminist Utopian Novel” and the story is indeed contrived: three would-be explorers, men, find a small country hidden away in the mountains that is populated only by women (who apparently reproduce through parthenogenesis, one of the many unbelievable feature of the story.) they are welcome but keep imprisoned by the women and slowly come to appreciate the many virtues of an all-women society, which seem to consist mainly in (1) clothes that are very comfortable and easy to move in (2) a well-organized set of villages, roads, and fields that make the most of the land and always look pristinely clean and well-kept and (3) an educational system from birth that yields healthy, polite, learned adults.

Other, darker aspects of this ideal society seem to be entirely brushed under the rug (poor housekeeping, horror!) For instance, all women must give birth to exactly one child, the thinking being that the more the merrier, but in order not to overload the land there is a limit of one per. And those women deemed “not worthy” may only birth the child, but not raise her (all children are women, naturally) so all children can benefit from a great upbringing. Negative traits such as stealing have been “bred out” over time. And those apparently perfect children have never wanted to explore outside their small land or had the gall to want to do something other than prescribed by society, including inventing any new technology. I’m not sure I’d like to live in this conforming, Communist, Luddite¬† world with my one daughter despite the pretty villages and the comfy clothes.

The book was originally published in 1915, which explains some of its madness. Aren’t women destined to a little more than children, clothes, and order?

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