Book Review: Herland

By: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Interesting at first, it never developed the conflict or tension to grab me and carry me to the end.

I saw this was having a free promotion on Amazon so I grabbed a copy. One of the seminal works of fiction to include a matriarchal society, it fitted the bill for my review programme as it covers gender equality and accordingly, I started reading it with gusto.

The books started well enough with the three male protagonists uncovering a land populated entirely by women. But then things went downhill and it’s not the author’s fault. The book was written for another time and a whole lot of the message that the book was looking to deliver wasn’t stuff I needed to be sold on. Women can do anything and everything which the book then started to show in painstaking detail.

This is a major problem with the book in that it fairly soon leaves plot behind and goes into a detailed explanation of the society and culture of the fictitious country Herland. Written in 1915, the level of detail and explanation made a lot of sense. Woman can be leaders, and workers, and planners, and rational with a demonstration for each that proved it in context for the story. The problem was, I already believe all this stuff so the book read like one huge over-explanation. By halfway I was getting tired. By the two thirds mark, I was scanning rather than reading. By the three quarters mark I was skipping pages. The problem is that the author seemed unwilling to add any faults into the society she had created. Perhaps she was concerned that the faults would define the society in the mind on her male readers and therefore chose to exclude them. The is perhaps a reflection of the time that the book was written. The result was she created a society of robots. Women who had no real faults, who accepted the society and fitted into their role with only a hint of troublemakers and hardly any criminal element to speak of. It killed any sense of meaningful risk, stakes or conflict and therefore robbed the book of attention grabbing power.

In conclusion, it was interesting at first for historical purposes but can someone please write a modern alternative, this one hasn’t dated well.

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