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In 'Herland', Charlotte Perkins Gilman explores her feminist and socialist ideas with a foray in utopian fiction.
The utopia Gilman creates for this novel is men-free (as the title 'Herland' kind of gives away!): a female-only territory, blissfully productive and peaceful, as utopias should be (not men-free: the peacable and lush bit!)
It's an amusing and light read as the three male explorers who find Herland learn about it and hope for Carry On Up The Jungle type rampant, man-hungry Amazon women.
Of course, this being a feminist text, they don't find that at all...
The primary characters are the three men, Terry, Jeff and our narrator Van. Two fall broadly into stereotypes: the "man's man" (Terry), who thinks women like to be dominated, and the idealistic romantic (Jeff), who puts women on a pedestal. Van is somewhere in between the two, open to treating women as just people and giving much thought to the workings of Herland. Amongst a background of female characters, the main ones are their counterparts, feisty Alima, calm Celis and the ideal, Ellador.
Van's role in the text is to compare his society with that of Herland, and he often finds it wanting. Sometimes, as is a hazard with much utopian fiction (which is often written to make social commentary), the writing style becomes a bit stilted and didactic at the expense of the story. But over all, it kicks along quite nicely.
Reading this work nearly a hundred years after it was first written means that some parts are harder to suspend disbelief for, such as the isolation of Herland, but it hasn't dated all that badly otherwise and some of the gender-stereotyping and issues Gilman questions are still relevant today.
The book was written & published in serial form in 1915, and only fully printed as a novel in the late '70s: its age accounts for some of the less appealing aspects of the book. It may in part explain why sexuality is limited, but more importantly why it seemed Gilman stressed that the women of the hidden country were white, which kept annoying me throughout. After finishing the novel, I read the introductory essay by Anne J Lane and from this, I understand that racial stereotyping is more pronounced in the sequel, so it seems it wasn't just me reading "too much" into it. It's sadly a product of its time in that respect, yet has some very "modern" feminist ideas in it as well, which is a little disconcerting.
This novel is an interesting read, often funny, and I'd recommend it to those with a taste for utopian fiction.
It can be found brand new from Amazon at £3.33 or from other sellers, used, for as little as a penny. It's also available as a download for Kindles at under £2.
*My review appears elsewhere under this user-name, but I've revamped it for DooYoo. Thanks for reading.*