By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Utopias are thought exercises, their ideal communities or states serving as a critique of how we manage affairs in this, the real world. Herland is a feminist utopia in that its main target is the status of women circa. 1915, but it plugs into the tradition of Utopian writing in other ways as well.
Its neatest trick is inverting the usual presentation of men as being rational and women emotional. The three explorers who discover Herland are introduced as being men of science, but they are treated as little more than children (even schoolgirls!) by the race of alpha females. For all the men’s education, one of them turns into a helpless romantic while another is a lecherous brute only interested in a smorgasbord of “Girls and Girls and Girls.” Confronted by the mature (over-40) women who run the place this would-be player is disgusted at the sight of people who, in his own world, properly remain invisible.
In contrast, the citizens of Herland are, like most Utopians, thoroughly rational – “inconveniently reasonable” even. They don’t have any interest in sex (they reproduce by parthenogenesis) and have elevated the maternal instinct from a “brute passion” to a religion. The sublimation of the passions is usually a first step on the road to dystopia, but here it’s a blessing. Nature itself has been transformed, with the Darwinian struggle for existence elided by the “negative eugenics” of population control and evolution itself being consciously directed.
The cover calls this a “lost” novel but it seems to have just dropped out of print. Originally appearing in serial form in Gilman’s magazine The Forerunner, it was only first published as a book in 1979. Much of it has now dated pretty badly, but for anyone interested in the early days of feminist speculative fiction it’s an essential text.