Herland is, above all other things, interesting. Gilman’s vision is vast and her ability to imagine and create a world so entirely other is, itself, impressive. The all-female utopia presented in Herland cannot fail, I think, to interest and intrigue – whether the reader be female or male. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I began reading Herland, all I knew was that it was about a country in which there were no men. I had read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper whilst at University and enjoyed it and so when the ‘Back to the Classics Challenge’ presented the task of reading a book set in a country I was never likely to visit, Herland seemed the obvious choice.
The story is narrated from the perspective of Van, a man who, along with his two friends, happens upon Herland: a country entirely comprised of women. As I said above, it makes for very interesting reading. The perceptions of these men and the perceptions of the women who they encounter are equally intriguing. The women of Herland have lived quite peacefully for generations (yes, there are new generations) without troubling themselves about the absence of men. Their civilisation, ideals and lifestyle is vastly different from anything the visiting men have ever dreamed of; indeed, Herland itself is quite a vision for Gilman to have crafted. This, I think, is where the author’s skill is shown to its best advantage. Gilman’s ability to perceive how an all-female society would develop, how their way of thinking would advance and how they would self-govern themselves is fascinating to behold. It is also to her credit that Gilman so deftly depicts the three men’s reactions to this female utopia and the contrasts she draws between the three different men who enter Herland is also intelligently done.
Herland introduced me to ideas and conceptions that I don’t think I would otherwise have thought of. Sure, women often chat about what it would be like to live without men (usually, when they’re berating them for making a mess or following an argument!), but I don’t think either men or women really stop and consider what it would be like to live without the other. Gilman has done this. Gilman herself is clearly something of a feminist, but I knew this having already read The Yellow Wallpaper; however, I think it would be to the benefit of both male and female readers to read Herland – if only to make us realise our own faults and the faults in our dual-gender society.
Herland is not a gripping character drama. It is more concerned with its thesis than its value as a story. Herland’s story is not the story of the present time but, rather, the story of the women of Herland since their isolation centuries ago. While the characters on the page are drawn well, it is not their lives with which the ‘story’ is chiefly concerned. Herland is a story of society – of its construction and how it operates – it is a psychological prognosis of a female-only world. I am conscious of the fact that what I have just written runs the danger of making Herland sound rather dry and academic. It is not. Whilst being all of the above, Herland is also a highly amusing and entertaining read. It is simply written and easy to read, the story is developed well and the plot intriguing (particularly at the start).
I would heartily recommend Herland to anybody. It is interesting, it is thought-provoking, it is witty, it is well-written and thus, is well worth a read.
My next book will come as a surprise, as I have stated from the outset In my good books… was created to stop me dawdling back to my old favourites; however, taking part in the ‘Back to the Classics Challenge’ has given me licence to cheat and in the category of ‘Re-read a Classic’ I will, naturally, be taking the much-desired opportunity of re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.