Suggested Readings

Allen, Polly Wynn. Building Domestic Liberty: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Architectural Feminism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. An outstanding analysis of Gilman’s interrelated ideas about homes, communities, and the social arrangement of the built environment.

Deegan, Mary Jo. Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1988. This monograph is the major study of the Chicago women’s sociological network, centered at Hull House, in which Gilman participated. Deegan’s work is indispensable for untangling many of the relevant intellectual currents that defined Gilman’s era, especially the concept of “cultural feminism.”

Donaldson, Laura E. “The Eve of De-Struction: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Feminist Re-Creation of Paradise.” An Interdisciplinary Journal 16 (1989): 373-387.

Gubar, Susan. “She in Herland: Feminism as Fantasy.” In Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by George E. Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, and Robert Scholes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Asserts that women’s abusive reality within the patriarchy enables a visionary revolution. Argues that Gilman’s utopic work serves as a rejection of the patriarchy.

Hill, Mary A. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Making of a Radical Feminist, 1860-1896. Philadelphia:...

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Form and Content

Herland is the first half of a witty, sociologically astute critique of life in the United States. This story concentrates ostensibly on three men—Van, Jeff, and Terry—who discover a small, uncharted country called Herland which, by force of an unusual accident of nature, has been governed and populated for two thousand years solely by women. Biological reproduction occurs miraculously by parthenogenesis (that is, without insemination). Charlotte Perkins Gilman exploits this contrived situation in order to contrast and compare the social features of a hypothetical woman-centered society to the harsh realities and crushing inequalities of everyday life found pervasively in male-dominated societies. The cohesive theme and primary purpose of Herland is the exposition of Gilman’s interconnected ideas about economics, education, clothing, prisons, parenting, male-female relationships, human evolution, and social organization generally. In With Her in Ourland, the neglected sequel to Herland published in 1916, Gilman presents the second half of the Herland chronicle, dissects the patriarchal and technological madness of World War I, and points constructively to an alternative future based on the pragmatic application of feminist values. Herland is not fundamentally a utopian novel; rather, it is a lucid, persuasive analysis of modern life as Gilman saw it.

Gilman frames Herland as a series of narrative...

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Places Discussed

Herland

Herland. Imaginary subtropical country ringed by heavily forested mountains as high as the Himalayas that is about the size of Holland. Its location is kept secret by the few outsiders who have visited it. Herland’s Aryan inhabitants, now limited to three million women, once were in contact with the best Old World civilizations. Two thousand years before the events of Gilman’s novel, the country extended beyond its mountain perimeter, reaching the coast of the “Great Sea.” Because of wars with external enemies, the ancient Herlanders contracted their settlements to within the protective mountains, defended the mountain pass, and built fortresses. When the men were fighting in the mountains, a volcanic eruption killed all of them and isolated Herland from the rest of the world. At the time of the novel, the country stands like a “basalt column,” accessible only by airplane, with thick forests at the base of the mountains.

Bordered by a belt of forest, the interior of Herland ranges from mountain valleys with winter snow to a large valley in southeastern Herland with a climate similar to that of California. The valley contains broad plains and well-tended forests, almost all of whose trees are either hardwood or food-bearing varieties. The three male adventurers compare the entire land to a garden, a park, and a truck farm. They comment that the forests are better tended than Germany’s, with no dead limbs and even with trained vines. Interspersed throughout the well-cultivated land are small glades with shaded stone...

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Context

The initial influence of Herland was restricted primarily to regular readers of The Forerunner, in which Herland was serialized in 1915. By extending reduced-price subscriptions of The Forerunner to participants, Gilman tried to encourage the formation of “Gilman Circles” in which the contents of her magazines, including Herland, were to be discussed by women in small, face-to-face groups. Poor sales, however, caused the demise of The Forerunner and the collapse of Gilman Circles. Overall, The Forerunner reached few readers, and thus Herland had minor social or literary force. From 1916 to 1979, the novel remained buried in the pages of Gilman’s defunct magazine.

The impact of Herland increased dramatically when its chapters were collated and republished together in book form by Pantheon Books in 1979. Herland, forty-four years after Gilman’s death and sixty-four years after the serialized first publication, reached a new feminist audience. The republication of Herland was promoted as the recovery of “a lost feminist utopian novel,” and the work quickly attracted attention from feminists in the growing women’s studies movement.

Yet, radically abstracted from the serial context of The Forerunner and divorced from Herland’s concluding sequel, the 1979 edition of Herland had a perplexing impact on the...

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Literary Techniques

Because of its function as a social document, a Utopian novel often lacks some of the aesthetic merits of fiction. The story, in short, often...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

Reading Herland gives the twenty-first century reader a sense of how long the struggle for equality between the sexes has raged; at...

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Social Concerns

Those familiar with Gilman's other works— from fiction such as "The Yellow Wallpaper" to nonfiction like Women and Economics— are...

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Literary Precedents

The ultimate precedent for Gilman's, as well as sundry other fictions that take the rubric "Utopia," is Thomas More's Utopia (1516)....

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Related Titles

While today's students are more familiar with "The Yellow Wallpaper" than any of Gilman's other writings, Herland is actually more...

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Bibliography

Suggested Readings

Allen, Polly Wynn. Building Domestic Liberty: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Architectural Feminism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. An outstanding analysis of Gilman’s interrelated ideas about homes, communities, and the social arrangement of the built environment.

Deegan, Mary Jo. Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1988. This monograph is the major study of the Chicago women’s sociological network, centered at Hull House, in which Gilman participated. Deegan’s work is indispensable for untangling many of...

(The entire section is 574 words.)