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Recent paperback edition
Recent paperback edition by "Signet"
Author Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Utopian, Feminist novel
Publisher The Forerunner (serial) & Pantheon Books (in book form)
Publication date 1915 (in serial) & 1979 (in book form)
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 147 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN NA & ISBN 0-394-50388-0 (first edition, hardback)

Herland is a utopian novel from 1915, written by feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The book describes an isolated society composed entirely of women who reproduce via parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction). The result is an ideal social order, free of war, conflict and domination. It first appeared as a serial in Perkins Gilman's monthly magazine Forerunner. The book is the middle volume in Gilman's utopian trilogy; it was preceded by her Moving the Mountain (1911), and followed with a sequel, With Her in Ourland (1916).


Plot summary

Herland was written in 1920 and originally published as a serial in The Forerunner, a magazine edited and written by Perkins between 1909 and 1916. It was not published in book form until 1979.

The early decades of the twentieth century were a time when women were fighting for equal rights, and the novel's core message is that of social reform. The utopian nation of Herland is used as a symbol to show the capabilities, greatness, and potential of womankind and, just as the three male leads (Jeff, Van and Terry), the reader by the novel's end realizes that women are not inferior to their male counterparts. All three of the male characters learn over time that Herland greatly surpasses their own male-built civilization. It is a vegetarian society, void of poverty, war, and even garbage. At first, all three men are suspicious of Herland and its women, and think they will find a society wracked by chaos and disorder, since they believe that women are not intelligent and organized, or capable of surviving without their male-halves. Jeff, Van, and Terry, then, represent the achievements of our civilization, which has been constructed and defined by men, and is therefore imperfect, full of suffering, war, disease, and other terrible atrocities. The fact that the female inhabitants of Herland can reproduce asexually, and that their utopia far surpasses anything men have built, satirizes the male gender by implying that women do not really need men, and that they can do everything men can do, perhaps even better. At the novel's end, Jeff and Van do not want to leave this perfect utopia for their own male-constructed civilization, and even seem repulsed with where they have come from. These two characters grow to realize that Herland is an ideal place, and, because they deride their own civilization, it implies that womanhood is greater than manhood (this, however, does not necessarily mean that Gilman personally believed that women are in every way better than men, simply that, to make her statement of social reform in favor of women, she presented them in as favorable a light as possible).

The three men take wives in Herland, and conflict between the partners develops regarding sexual intercourse. The women feel that its only purpose is procreation, while the men all advocate recreational sex to some extent. Jeff and Van overcome these difficulties, and the former conceives a child with his wife. However, Terry's overly dominant personality leads to an attempted rape of his partner, which causes him to be banished. Van and his wife, Ellador, leave with Terry on their seaplane, because the vehicle needs two to operate, and because Ellador wants to evaluate the 'modern world' firsthand. The book concludes without revealing Ellador's future experiences.

If seen from a traditional point of view, Jeff and Terry are each at different "ends" of the male gender. According to the stereotype, Jeff behaves in a "female" way at times. He is soft, acquiescent, and unafraid to show his emotions. Terry has an instinct to dominate (hence his attempt at rape), which, by many, is seen as a male character trait even today. The protagonist, Van, however, does not display any stereotypically sexual traits, but functions as a more or less neutral observer of the proceedings around him. Because of his position as a sociologist, Van is in a position where he can accept new ideas and critically evaluate ideas that might not match with his world view, more so than his two companions. It should be noted, though, that Herland is written as a polemic; Gilman's intent was to persuade, and therefore Van's job was not to really critically evaluate new ideas, but to accept them wholeheartedly, even to convince the audience that Herland was indeed a Utopia. Through Van's veneer of impartiality, Van functioned as the ideal narrator, supposedly developing insight into the women while retaining his male position.

Major themes

Gender and defining it is a central theme in Herland, and Gilman seems to be saying that gender is socially constructed rather than something definitive and unchangeable. For instance, the women of Herland are loving mothers, yet are also strong, independent, and, in some ways, have masculine qualities, such as having short hair. Jeff is in some ways feminine, as stated before, and out of the three male leads, seems least afraid of speaking his mind and showing his feelings. It is not unintentional that, when the three male characters are imprisoned by the Herlanders, their hair grows long, which Gilman does to symbolically link them to women kind. Gender reversal is used throughout the novel: the women have short hair, the men have long hair; the women teach while the men learn; the women are physically stronger than the men, etc.



Because Herland depicts White separatism as a component of Gilman's ideal society, it has been characterized by some as a work of racism.

See also

External links

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