With Her in Ourland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The novella With Her in Ourland picks up immediately after Herland. To avoid too many spoilers from the first novella, I’ll simply say Vandyke (one of the male American explorers) and Ellador (a Herlander) travel the globe using gems she brought with her from Herland, which are viewed as simply nice where Ellador comes from, but a fortune’s worth of rubies everywhere else. Over the course of two years of travel, Ellador hopes to diagnose and cure what ails the world’s societies, taking the information she’s gathered back to Herland for study.

This cover is horrible off. The novel was published and set in 1915.

Starting in Europe, Ellador is shocked immediately. WWI began July 28, 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With Her in Ourland was published in 1915, meaning author Charlotte Perkins Gilman (she/her) was writing during the war and likely felt the horrors of it herself. Even though everything seems terrible, Ellador is eager to get to America (said with shiny eyes and breathy voice) because she assumes it will be somewhat like Herland. Van comes from America, and he’s proud of his country.

But upon arrival, Ellador realizes it’s worse in America. No, there isn’t an active war, but the history stings. People who didn’t want to be persecuted for their beliefs, who wanted to be treated fairly, left Europe to begin anew on foreign land. Though they began as “courageous and high-minded,” Ellador determines America is now “. . . bloated and weak, with unnatural growth, preyed on by all manner of parasites inside and out, attacked by diseases of all kinds, sneered at, criticized, condemned by older nations . . .” While Gilman’s book is progressive, here I was hesitant. Was she calling immigrants “parasites”? Van challenges her with my exact question, and he nobly holds onto America’s tradition of welcoming “the poor and oppressed of all nations.” But Ellador points out how few people of color are treated as citizens, and if the aren’t allowed full citizenship, how can they contribute to the character of the country? They essentially must live as parasites. Because America has potential, Ellador begins referring to it as the “Splendid Child,” which rather amused me.

Herland reads like a story; With Her in Ourland has minimal plot and loads of dialogue. In effect, it is a work of philosophy. I wish I had known that, as I found myself spacing out slightly while waiting for the next event to drive the characters forward. Instead, we get summaries of where Ellador and Van have traveled to followed by long debates about societal structures. To be clear, Gilman’s writing is fascinating, and she has Ellador defend arguments that I agree with but can’t always verbalize as clearly.

For example, Ellador listens keenly to locals as they travel. One man in the U.S. claims that he attended a meeting of scientists, one of which delivered a paper on the “Negro problem,” as it was historically called. The man says that black people are born lazy, can’t be educated, desire to have intimate relationships with white people. Ellador challenges him, noting that a slave was worth around $1,000. The man agrees. Then she says, but why would you buy human labor if that person was known to be of a lazy race? The owner would not make a profit. Furthermore, if former slaves cannot be educated, then why were their laws prohibiting it? Lastly, if all Southern people feel a natural “antipathy” toward African Americans, then why would there be a need for anti-miscegenation laws? Besides, white babies cling furiously to their African American nannies until they are taught to hate, meaning it is not “innate.”

Throughout With Her in Ourland, readers encounter many such scenes. Ellador takes on the term “human nature” when what Van really means is men. She is frustrated with women for their inability to organize and even more angry with female anti-suffragists. In her innocence, she believes American was smartly founded on vacant land until Van admits otherwise. She tackles food waste, environmental waste, and even capitalism! As I mentioned in my review of Herland, Gilman’s 1915 novellas feel relevant today. There is a hint of #NotAllMen in With Her in Ourland when Van and Ellador travel to Hawaii (not yet a state, of course) where she learns that natives occupied the land until missionaries began exterminating the natives while attempting to make them Christians. Finally, Ellador says:

“I love you, Van.”

“Thank Heaven for that, my dear. I thought you were going to cast me out because of the dispossessed Hawaiians. I didn’t do it — you’re not blaming me, are you?”

“Did not — America — do it?” she asked, quietly. “And do you not care at all?”

Although With Her in Ourland reads less like a story and more as philosophy, I enjoyed myself and was pleased to have added this work as a tool in my feminist theory belt. If you’re interested, check out these free works by Gilman on Project Gutenberg.

*Herland and With Her in Ourland are described as part of a trilogy. However, the first book, Moving the Mountain, is not connected to the novellas I’ve reviewed. Instead, it is another work of feminist theory in fiction form. It does sound interesting — perhaps if Terry from Herland had his own book — but does not need to be read first.

17 comments

  1. I wonder what Ellador would think of America today… Do you know how this book was received when it came out? It sounds shockingly progressive and like it’s dealing with issues that are still ongoing and sometimes controversial.

    Like

    • Actually, I did not look up any reviews of Herland or With Her in Ourland! Now I’m curious as to what was said about it at the time. . .

      Okay, I’m back from Googling!

      It looks like both novellas were originally published in a magazine called The Forerunner. I looked that magazine up, and it turns out it was completely run by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which means her work was essentially published by a vanity press. I tried to find some articles about the reception of her novellas when they came out but found none, possibly due to their being published in a magazine instead of as books. The novellas weren’t actually published as books until 1979.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm how fascinating! Philosophy is the one thing I just can’t read it, I hate it, and I space out like crazy when I read it so I feel you there. This sounds slightly better than that, but I can see why it would be boring in some places.

    I’m shocked by the food waste topic coming up, especially for someone writing during WWI! I doubt the food waste they saw then compares to the horrible waste we do now though.

    Like

    • I definitely am not a fan of philosophy because I often would run into these arguments in which a philosopher would say something to the effect of “Well, of COURSE everyone already agrees with X, so let me use that as the basis for my whole argument.” And there’s me sitting there thinking, “I don’t agree with X at all!” Fortunately, With Her in Ourland reads as more of a conversation that uses examples and facts to persuade the other characters that what they thought was fine is truly a societal ill. So, overall it was a great read, but I wish I had my mindset tuned in beforehand.

      I hadn’t thought about the food waste in the context of WWI when there was food rationing. Good eye, Anne! No wonder Ellador was so appalled .

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That really is a properly terrible cover. Seeing it on a shelf without the context of your review, I would assume it was the type of Regency romance that gets written in overblown language and features at least one Dashing Scoundrel. Which is a shame, because the novella itself actually sounds very interesting, and it probably gets dismissed by people who would like it on the grounds of the cover!

    Like

  4. I thought you and I discussed this cover – maybe not (or maybe on Sunday). I can think of a few books during first wave feminism where the writing is mainly arguments/lectures with bits and pieces of filler to make a story. Perhaps all that disadvantage had women bursting at the seams and they just had to get it out.

    Like

    • We may have discussed this cover on my Sunday Lowdown. I know Lou and I also talked about it. It’s interesting that Gilman uses fiction (sort of) as a vehicle to have a conversation about feminism, and as I mention in my more recent Sunday Lowdown, that she published Herland and With Her in Ourland in her own magazine instead of with a traditional publisher. At first, I was thinking she couldn’t get her work published, but then I realized how interesting it is that she had full control of her own writing.

      Like

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s