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  • Martyn Rhys Vaughan

ADVENTURES IN " HERLAND"


GILMAN AND “HERLAND”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was born in Hartford, Connecticut. She was an early feminist and campaigned tirelessly for women’s right. She published a magazine called “The Forerunner”, in which she put forth her ideas, writing most of the magazine herself. Her importance to SF comes from her novel “Herland” which she wrote in 1915 and serialised in “The Forerunner.” It is both a “Utopian” novel and a “Lost World” novel. In it, three American men learn of a mysterious land at the top of a plateau. They return with a biplane and land on the plateau. After a few encounters with suspicious women they are captured by the Elders of the community. They gradually learn the language and thus the history of Herland. The population is entirely female. There were once men but most were killed off in warfare; the survivors being finished off by the volcanic eruptions which sealed Herland from the rest of the world. The women accepted their fate, but then one woman became pregnant by parthenogenesis. Soon others followed and the population was saved. The pregnancies are not caused by sexual behaviour but arise spontaneously. The last man died over 2,000 years ago. The women are basically vegetarian, with farming being arable. Any milk required is supplied by the women themselves. The men learn that education is superior to the outside world, there is no conflict or economic struggles. The women are horrified to learn of conditions obtaining in the bisexual world outside of Herland, with its diseases, inequality, meat-eating and warfare. Determined to prevent knowledge of Herland reaching the bisexual world the men are allowed to gain partners from the women of Herland. However, the men soon learn that the women are not interested in sexual intercourse. However, one of the men tries to force himself on his “wife” and is imprisoned. As the Herlanders do not believe in violence they decide he is to be expelled, on pain of not revealing Herland’s location. As one man cannot fly the biplane alone, another man is allowed to go with him. However, the third man remains with his “wife” as she is now pregnant—presumably parthenogenetically. One Herlander, however, decides to go with her “husband”. Their adventures are described in the sequel “With Her In Ourland.” (1916). In it the Herlander explains the inadequacies of the bisexual world to the reader and eventually the pair return to Herland. “Herland” remained little known until it was published by Pantheon Press in 1979, and again in 1986 by Women’s Press.

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