Review: Herland

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m gonna make a public promise right here: I will never, ever, ever assign to students another novel I haven’t read ahead of time.

I assigned this book as summer reading for my incoming senior AP Literature students. (Previous classes lost too many copies of Fahrenheit 451.) I know their AP Language teacher makes them read Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and most of them seemed to like that, and Herland sounds like it should be interesting. And at first it is …

But once the three men are taken captive, the whole thing just sucks like a good toilet. Nothing more happens. It’s all just talk, talk, talk about how the rest of the world is not as good as the country Van calls Herland and how the women here are so feminine but not at all in the submissive way the rest of the world thinks of that word.

Finally, at the end, Terry commits a “heinous” crime and is banished, so he and Van and Van’s new wife are gonna leave, right? And then on the last page it’s decided Terry can’t go because he’ll tell where Herland is. What the hell?

The novel has none of the subtlety that Gilman shows in her famous short story. In the beginning the novel reads like a typical male adventure story of the time, and I’m expecting to see that whole style and genre satirized and turned upside down, but it doesn’t really happen. Nothing happens. Nothing! Ugh.

I have the worst luck finding and assigning female authors for this class. By that I mean female authors both I and they will enjoy, and that would be acceptable AP reading. (Don’t even suggest Kingsolver; it ain’t happening!) Thank goodness for Zora Neale Hurston!

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