Thursday, 22 April 2021

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman + #FreeBook

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Published in America in 1915.

How I got this book:
Downloaded the ebook from Project Gutenberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An all-female society is discovered somewhere in the distant reaches of the earth by three male explorers who are now forced to re-examine their assumptions about women's roles in society.

Herland is the Goodreads Vegan Book Club book choice for April which is why I finally stopped procrastinating about reading this utopian feminist classic and downloaded a Project Gutenberg ebook. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed the story. It is somewhat dated in places with concepts such as 'negative eugenics' engendering a sense of unease, but I felt I could very happily have lived in Herland myself. Gilman has managed to upend our learned understanding of enforced gender roles, instead envisaging a single gendered country where all opportunities are open to everybody.

I liked how the three male characters, each such a stereotype, were used to illustrate the daftness of quite a lot of our society's customs - or those of a hundred years ago at least. I'm not sure if a Herland narrator would have had the same impact, especially to an audience whose mindsets would have been more likely in tune with those of Terry, Jeff or Van. If Gilman had written Herland today, I would have been upset at her telling this women's story through male eyes, but instead I'm taking it as a sign of just how far mainstream literature has progressed in the interim.

Gilman shows interesting foresight in several of her assumptions about what makes Herland such a successful community. Animal agriculture being discontinued in favour of a plantbased diet purely because of the inefficiency of feeding farmed animals far more than they provide by way of nutrition is an idea that I see frequently argued now, over a century since Herland was written. The Herland women also live with an eye firmly set to their community's future. Fruit and nut tree forests are widely planted and their educational emphasis is on how the next generation can build upon the successes of their mothers and grandmothers. Herland does not stagnate through chaining itself to outdated traditions and cultural practices.

If Herland was a male-centred book, I would quite expect it to have become a cult blueprint for alternative community bubbles across the Western world. I can see how many aspects of the Herland communal living ethos could benefit all people in the real world. Perhaps its time has now come?

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Charlotte Perkins Gilman / Fantasy fiction / Books from America

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