Ideas from 1915: “Herland”

If any of you out there are interested enough to stick around and read more of my blog, you’ll probably start to learn over time if you haven’t already) that, aside from being an English major (which means a ton of literature classes), I also enjoy all types of literature that doesn’t show up on any of my syllabi. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a 1915 novel which actually is on the syllabus for a summer class that is absolutely killing me right now (with the help of fiscal-year-end reporting at work), but thank goodness it’s at least an enjoyable read.

I ran across a passage in it tonight that I want to share. It’s not a new idea; in fact, it pretty closely resonates with PZ Myers’ message I posted last week. It wasn’t even new at the time of the novel. It serves to show, though, that maybe in another ~93 years, we’ll have made even more progress in teaching people to look forward instead of backward. (All emphasis is mine)

This was a lesson to me. No wonder this whole nation of women was peaceful and sweet in expression — they had no horrible ideas.

“Surely you had some when you began,” I suggested.

“Oh, yes, no doubt. But as soon as our religion grew to any height at all we left them out, of course.”

From this, as from many other things, I grew to see what I finally put in words.

“Have you no respect for the past? For what was thought and believed by your foremothers?”

“Why, no,” she said. “Why should we? They are all gone. They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them — and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.

(etext here; passage from Chapter 10, page 111)

Even beyond the progressive thinking that pervades the book, I highly recommend it. It is a utopian novel on the surface, which naturally comes with a great deal of social commentary, and as with most utopian literature, a bit of an undercurrent of dystopian ideas as well. It is also well-written, easy to fall into and thought-provoking.