Monday 25 April 2011

Book Review: Herland

gilmanHerland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Publisher: Kindle Edition

Category: Classic

Challenges: A Year of Feminist Classics

Synopsis: Three young American men find a society consisting only of women. The women reproduce through pathogenesis and run an orderly country.

My Thoughts: I hate to say it but this book did absolutely nothing for me. It felt messy in the narrative flow. To many times the narrator started telling a story and then said that they would come back to it, which I suppose they did but without markers. It just felt like it left me hanging.

I know that the point was to show gender construction but I don’t think it did so in a convincing manner. By having a male narrator I felt that so many of issues of gender roles were missed. Or perhaps to highlighted (yes I realise that there is a contradiction here). I just didn’t feel, like I have with other books for the Year of Feminist Classics, that this book brought anything really new. It just continued highlight the perceived gender differences that have already been well established.

I did find it interesting that Gilman did highlight the fact that women can live together peacefully without the pettiness that the men expected. But at the same time I thought this was done in a rather heavy handed way. To much tell not enough show.

The most interesting passages for me where ones early on in the book where the narrator insisted that because it was “a CIVILIZED country (…) there must be men” (p9). I thought this was an interesting point of view from an historical perspective. Gilman is obviously trying to show how our society views women as uncivilized and chaotic, whereas men are clearly civilized. This is an interesting contrast to the fact that the men in the story, in a very Victorian fashion put woman on a pedestal. This further adds to the woman as an angel or a whore theory that was prevalent during Victorian times (even though this story was written somewhat later the views were still very much there).

It is also interesting to note the differing views of the copulating that are presented in the book. I think part of my apathy towards this book is embedded in the fact that once again women are shown to not want to engage in the physical act of intercourse for purposes other than producing a child. Although I know that I should put the book in its historical context I still find this annoying (and no I am definitely not talking about Terry and Alima, what he did was WRONG).

Ultimately I have to say that I much prefer “A Yellow Wallpaper” as a commentary on the treatment of women at the time.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.


Chinoiseries said...

I have not yet read this book and after reading your review, I'm not sure whether I should. It seems like the author made a good effort at building a female-only civilization in her novel, but that she did not quite succeed.
Perhaps her treatise on female sexuality is a normal point of view (even for women) in her time?

Anonymous said...

I've only recently found out about the book. It sounds interesting in principle.

Not sure what age this book is from, but that may make quite a difference on how they look at sexuality of course.