The SFFaudio Podcast #243 – Jesse, Jenny, Bryan Alexander, Terpkristin, and Maissa Bessada discuss the 1915 novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Talked about on today’s show: [Note: references to the novel are in bold, while references to the eponymous country are not.] “Lost utopian novel”; first appeared in book form in 1979 as part of an effort to rediscover works by female authors; was it suppressed by patriarchy?; the novel launches with action; features Heinlein-esque; the story feels very alien despite transpiring on Earth, takes place in an unnamed jungle region presumed to be either South America or Africa; Herland grouped as part of a trilogy along with an unrelated novel Moving the Mountain and the direct sequel With Her in Ourland; the book originally appeared in serialized form in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own magazine; grounded in “utopian” and “lost race” tradition of the period which pick apart aspects of society; Heinlein’s and Gilman’s sexism compared and contrasted; “virgin impregnation” compared with conception of Christ; foundation of Herland as a Roman-style slave revolt; “what a world of slaves it was” Goslings quote echoed in Herland; utopian ecology (plants, animals); Jesse calls it “Mother Knows Best totalitarianism”; “intentional Darwinism”; eugenics foreshadowing World War II; Bryan brings up The King in Yellow again; protagonists give threefold approach to women; punishment in Herland more akin to child-rearing foregoing execution; Leviticus does advocate execution; both the male protagonists and the Herland women are archetypical; The Yellow Wallpaper; utopia or dystopia; unreliable narrator and narrative; Jesse argues that there’s “no drama in a perfect society” and the book has a terrible plot; eighteenth-century feminist utopia Millennium Hall; Jenny says the sequel’s plot is even worse; immortality and living in Heaven; no dogs in Herland, only cats; subservience of aesthetics to productivity; “their country was as neat as a Dutch kitchen”; childhood Jesse conflated cats and dogs; cats and dogs emblematic of gender relations in Herland; Herland is a baby-proof world; more about narrator bias in the novel; Gilman projecting her own views on mental disorder into the book; 1984 parallels; The Mysterious Doctor Fu Manchu; comparison to Goslings; why does Herland want to integrate men?; sexual dynamics in marriage; Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, a medieval utopia about bearded women; Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan; female politicians behaving like men e.g. Margaret Thatcher; Barbara W. Tuchman and the “fallen tower” of World War I era society; utopian societies lack practical advice for the here-and-now; Origin of Species debated as source of eugenics; education in Finland; education as driving force in Herland; “only our best become teachers”; Montesori; No Child Left Behind; the perils of individualism in a utopia; “fashion and women go together” says Jesse; Jenny shares insights on potential contributions from women in the sequel; a debate on why Herland never took off; patriotism and its linguistic roots; more on the novel’s World War I context; Willa Cather’s WWI novel One of Ours; “trilogy” of novels packaged as e-book.
Posted by Jesse Willis