Books: “Herland”

I joined a book club for the first time recently, because apparently this is the phase of my life where I channel my inner bored housewife. I’ll be sure to submit myself for public castigation if I ever buckle to my vague and bothersome curiosity about 50 Shades of Grey, but I’m trying to give up hatereading this year. There are books out there that won’t make me roll my eyeballs out of my head and that meme has gotten tiresome.

Luckily I don’t think that will be a book club book any time soon.

This month’s selection was Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. As successful book club books should be, it wasn’t something I would have necessarily chosen for myself, but I don’t resent the time I spent reading it. It was also free, which is always exciting. I suspect that’s one of the reasons it pulled ahead in the book club poll, because when I mentioned it to a friend, he called it a “charmingly eclectic” selection. I guess most book clubs don’t read Edwardian feminist utopias.

It features three men who find their way to an entirely female civilization, which they spend most of the book struggling to accept as highly functional, with comments along the lines of, “there must be men, look how nice these roads are!” They are eventually forced to accept that no, there are no men, and that women are actually capable of functioning independently.

Spoiler warning, but for those who are curious but don’t want to read the book, they are able to reproduce parthenogenically, basically by willing it to happen.

They’re also asexual geography-induced vegans, because they had to get rid of animal farming due to limited space, and consciously control when they decide to mentally impregnate themselves for the same reason. Until the male characters get there and press the issue, sex itself seems to have gotten outdated as well; this surprised me a bit, but given the time period it was written, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that even if Gilman had wanted to include some aspects of female sexuality she would have decided not to because people would completely miss the other points she was trying to make while they were too busy yelling about the absurdity of female desire.

It is also conveniently available for download at Project Gutenberg.


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