Sunday, June 10, 2007

Herland

I naughtily spent most of the day outside reading while the children sploshed in their paddling pool instead of packing much.

I re-read Herland, a utopic novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (probably best known for The Yellow Wallpaper). I got the book in college but don't think I've read it since. The Utopia Gilman creates 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, I meant 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 Amazon women. Of course they don't find that at all, the women reproduce parthenogenically. Motherhood is a privilege and preoccupation, a religion even. I wasn't altogether satisfied with their depiction as pretty much non-sexual beings and the focus on being mothers alone. Perhaps parthenogenic reproduction would create such disinterest, but it made the women seem less human to my mind.

The book was written & published in serial form in 1915, I think, and only fully printed as a novel on the late '70s: its age accounts for some of the attitudes shown, I hope. 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. 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 certainly a product of its time in that respect, yet has some very "modern" feminist ideas in it as well, which is a little disconcerting.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where aer you and what are you doing? You never replied to my email. I'm getting paranoid.

Abster xx

Hippernicus said...

Heeeerre's Johnny! :D