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.

10 thoughts on “Herland

  1. There’s a reason most books don’t become classics. Message books in particular have a hard time because messages are always focused on a particular time and place and unless they’re broad and vague enough, will not survive as people move on to new messages.


      1. and in 30 years, when we’re all holograms and there are no more frat bros?
        That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Specifics that die in a generation or 3.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s