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Book Review: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

June 22, 2015
mandyevebarnett


HerlandHerland_04

Herland 1915

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I first heard about Herland a couple of years after I wrote my first NaNoWriMo in 2009, resulting in the basis of my novel, Life in Slake Patch. The premise of my speculative novel, Life in Slake Patch, is a future matriarchal society forced by a global war’s destruction of the planets civilization and a large proportion of the male population, to take control. This developed a segregated lifestyle maintaining men and women into defined roles. The population is bound by strict rules on activities, living quarters and parings (marriage).

So when I discovered the Herland story, I was curious to read it. Maybe it was my naivety but I assumed the book would be the usual novel length, however it is only 124 pages, so more novella than novel. Due to a series of writing activities – writing a further four novels, publishing two children’s books and an adult fantasy and launching my freelance career, I never seemed to get the time to buy Herland. Well until a couple of weeks ago!

It is surprising how Gilman formed the concept of an all female land in an era when women were seen as delicate housebound wives. Although, Gilman was hardly typical of her time as she was a turn-of-the-century social critic and lecturer. Her short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is probably more widely known than Herland. The style of Herland is of course a reflection of the era’s writing style but even so fascinating and enthralling. Gilman tells the story of a feminist utopia from the viewpoint of a trio of men, who discover it by chance. This was my first surprise as my novel, Life in Slake Patch; written I hasten to add with no knowledge of Herland; from the viewpoint of a young man living in the male compound, Slake.

Gilman’s verbiage can distract the flow of the story, which in itself does not have the modern trait of increasing action and concluding climax. In truth it is monotone rather than stereo, devoid of suspense. However, it has beautifully written exposition giving the reader a real feel of the land and its inhabitants. I feel Gilman must have had an expansive imagination not only because she created a woman only land, but also she obviously thought of the ‘perfect’ woman world, cut free of the stereo type she personally experienced. Gilman goes into great detail on how the fruit trees were cultivated, the traditional meat animals were foregone and the garments the women wore were practical and comfortable. She writes in great detail of their psyche and how the population works together and abides to a thoughtful and exacting structure of life.Her explanation of their history is also creative.

The male narrator explains throughout the book how he and his companions try to impress the women of their male dominated civilization. Over time two of these men find that Herland has a much better way of life, utilizing forethought and planning, which over the generations made the utopia. One man is, however, not convinced and is determined to ‘show’ the female leaders, how they should be mastered.

In our modern age it is probably thought of as a naive story but at the time I would think it was shocking. Women ruling their own world and equal to men! The women of Herland were strong, capable and fearless of the men. Their interest was purely educational, a thirst for  knowledge of the world beyond their fortified enclave. The woman’s way of life was based on motherhood. This was their governing and abiding focus in everything they did, from nurturing the female only babies to caring for each other to sustaining themselves.

The second surprise was Gilman’s explanation of how the women managed to reproduce without men. It is a kind of immaculate conception, (actually a parthenogenesis process), which occurred several generations after all the men were killed and the women cut off from the outside world. One woman gave birth and her daughters also carried the genetic ability to reproduce. In our modern day of science fiction and fantasy rich environment, where anything is possible this seems fanciful but in 1915, I would think it was inconceivable (pardon the pun!) to most of the population.

Although, I bore in mind the era in which it was written whilst reading, Herland is quite exceptional in its concept. Gilman was a woman before her time and I’m sure if it were written today in our accepted style, it would be a great hit with speculative and fantasy lovers.

Charlotte

Charlotte Perkins Gilman  1860-1935

A Rip-Roaring Time..?

August 6, 2013
mandyevebarnett


Rip-roaring – definition: boisterously wild and exciting

The first thing that came to my mind was the twenties, with the outrageous indulgences of the wealthy. The strangest thing, was the fashion of wearing dresses with no shape to them but masses of long necklaces and fringes. It was as though every female became androgynous with their shape and relied on adornments to feminize themselves.

roaring_twenties1

The most identifiable movie for this period is, of course, The Great Gatsby. I have watched the original but as yet not the newer version. When we compare the two main characters, there is a resemblance between each movie. Have you seen the newer version – what were your thoughts?

The Great Gatsby

Leonardo di Caprio and Carey Mullligan in a still from The Great Gatsby

In reality the 1920’s were a time of change in America. “The Roaring Twenties”  impacted the economy, social standards and everyday life. Industry production of consumer goods was up 60% thus affecting American families, with higher wages and shorter working hours. However, the down side was adversity and opposition against immigrants and farmers. Immigrants were not treated fairly by Americans, depending on where they came from and what they believed, making finding employment difficult. Because the price of food kept reducing, farmers were paid very little. Added to that was the worry of the Dust Bowl, making a two tier system.

When researching periods for our projects these type of details are vital, enabling us to reflect the time period correctly.

Have you written about a particular period?

Succumb…to love?

March 13, 2013
mandyevebarnett


Succumb – definition: 1) to yield or give in to force or pressure 2) to die

Twesome Loop 002

I am sharing an excerpt from my reincarnation love story here, The Twesome Loop. Two of the main characters succumb to the inevitable even though neither of them have any idea what is happening. They meet in an Italian villa.

At breakfast Gerald helped himself to coffee and went onto the patio. There he discovered he was not alone, a woman was lying on a divan, reading. He watched for a moment then approached her to introduce himself. As she turned to face him, he felt drawn to her. A feeling of recognition but how could that be with a complete stranger?

Melissa turned at the sound of footsteps and faced a tall distinguished looking dark haired man. The sudden rush of belonging and love that overwhelmed her, took her breath away. Whatever was going on? She didn’t even know this man but sensed a recollection of sorts. She must pull herself together and make an introduction. She was not a silly teenager with a crush.

Gerald noticed that she had a shocked expression on her face, much the same as he imagined he had. They reached out to each other simultaneously. What an odd feeling knowing a complete stranger. Gerald couldn’t reason with himself or resist the strong urge to hold this woman tightly in his arms. Straining to control himself, Gerald stepped closer and held out his hand but Melissa was already too close his hand grasped around her waist, it was the most natural thing to do.

His touch was electrifying and familiar. She shook her head unprepared for what her eyes were showing her.       Everything around Gerald dissolved and all he could do was look into her pale blue eyes and know them from long ago. As he gazed into Melissa’s eyes, he knew she was as lost as he was. Recognition but how can you know a complete stranger instantly? With total certainty Gerald knew she was what he had been searching for his whole life. This woman was his life without any doubt.

Gerald looked down at her and gently released his grip. At last he found his voice and introduced himself.

“Hello, I’m Gerald. Gerald Conway-Smythe.”

“I’m Melissa…… Melissa Shaw. Where have you come from? Do I know you?”

Confused Gerald blurts out the first thing that comes to mind.

“I came from my room, actually. How about I fetch us some fresh coffee?”

“Oh, yes alright, that would be lovely, Gerald, thank you.”

Gerald needed time to think. His offer to get coffee would give him that time while he organized cups, milk and sugar on a tray. He needed to make sense of these pervasive emotions. As he walked back to Melissa, he glimpsed a different scene. She was in a long gown with her long hair coiled high upon her head. Where had that come from? He stopped in mid stride unsure if he was experiencing a hallucination.

“Gerald, are you alright?”

The concern on Melissa’s face broke his paralysis, he could never worry her.

“I’m sorry a touch of déjà vu I believe, although it had the strangest effect on me. I saw you in costume and your hair coiffured but the surroundings were exactly the same.”

“Thank goodness, I thought I was going mad. I saw you in a long frock coat and stockings. Whatever is going on?”

“I may have an explanation but need to do some research first. In the meantime let’s have coffee and enjoy this wonderful vista.”

“If you can explain this oddity I will be amazed and grateful all at the same time.”

Gerald resolved to investigate this strange occurrence but for now he knew with complete certainty that whatever happened, he would care for Melissa for the rest of his days. There were forces at work here that he could not comprehend at the moment. It was probably best to go with the flow and see where it led him.

English: The Victorians and some Edwardians wo...

English: The Victorians and some Edwardians wore frock coat suits like this in check and tweed much as we would a tweed lounge suit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As always I’m open to comments, don’t be shy. This novel still has a lot of editing required.

Visual Reminders of Days Gone Past…

March 11, 2013
mandyevebarnett


Today’s word – Gingham – definition: a cotton clothing fabric in plain weave.

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All I could see when I read this word was gathered gingham fabric across the kitchen sink window…isn’t that evidence of how strong images are? My next image was of my infant (elementary) school uniform, which was green and white gingham summer dresses or grey skirts and bottle green sweatshirt’s for winter.

So is gingham coming back into fashion now? I found a site, which has gentleman’s shirts in gingham – no more little girl’s with pigtails? I also found out that gingham is typically a colour and white not multi coloured like plaid. Once I starting delving into the history of gingham I found out it was first produced in 17th century England and the fabric shipped to the colonies. However, the original fabric was striped and only gradually became checkered. The most popular colour combination was blue and white. As for the actual name there are numerous possibilities to its origin. Ging-gang is Italian, genggang is Malaysian and Indonesia – take your pick. Whichever it is they all mean striped.

This fascinating post is worth reading – if you so wish. Lots of stuff I didn’t know about gingham. http://visforvintage.net/2012/09/11/gingham-fabric/

After reading all this it occurred to me that my image of gingham may not necessarily be true for everyone. I have it firmly set in the 1950’s but with the re-emergence of the fabric in later decades in other guises, it is quite possible that a younger reader would picture it entirely differently. So that makes for an interesting predicament, depending on the age of your readers and or the era you are portraying can significantly alter how the use of articles or items can influence your readers perception of where in time your characters are.

A point to consider and research when using iconic items, articles or music for that matter. All of them can evoke a different response in your reader.

nanowrimo (1)

Now Here’s A Challenge…

February 18, 2013
mandyevebarnett


Chitterlings – definition: 1) a ruffled frill on the front of a shirt. 2) a food dish made from port intestines: also, chitlins

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I’m setting a challenge today…if you so choose to participate. Use both definitions in the same short story or poem! I’ve pondered for a while and this is the result.

Dressed in ruffled frill

Ebony jacket and trousers

Paired with shiny shoes

A dashing image made

**

A classy restaurant

Candle-lit and romantic

First date, first impressions

Nervously waiting

**

Her shapely figure before him

A friendly smile

And chased kiss upon his cheek

Candle flicker

**

Menu’s pondered

Surprise at her choice

Chitterlings

Agreement to taste

**

Plates served

 Perfectly presented cuisine

Small bite tasted

Unexpectedly good

**

Her gentle laughter

And statement of soul food

Calmed his nerves

A great first date

Chitlins in broth.

Chitlins in broth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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