Summer, Edith Wharton (1917)

My Edition:summer
Title: Summer
Author: Edith Wharton
Publisher: Bantam
Device: Mass Market Paperback
Year: 1917
Pages: 205
For a plot summary


“She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.”[i]

Charity Royall was born into extreme poverty on the wrong side of the tracks, or in this case, Mountain, from which she is “brought down” by Lawyer Royall to be a companion for his wife. When she dies, he eyes Charity for his next wife. She is told she should always be grateful that Royall rescued her but she is smart, rebellious and itching to get out of this very small town. To that end, she secures a part time job in the town’s library, though she has no heart for it and spends most of her days bored and angry.

When a young man wanders into the library one afternoon, the course of her life is changed. Lucius Harney is the cousin of the town’s matriarch, Miss Hatchard, with whom he is staying while conducting an architectural survey on old buildings in the vicinity. Since Charity knows the area well, she volunteers to guide him to various dwellings. As the weeks of exploration go by, they fall into a sexual relationship and pledge their future life to each other. At the same time Royall is pressuring Charity to marry him and one frightening night Charity has to physically restrain him from forcing his way into her bedroom.

Throughout Charity’s life, the Mountain has constantly loomed in her thoughts. And she is plagued, too, by the fact she never knew her mother, who may still be alive. When she becomes pregnant, she cannot tell anyone and in a fit of resignation believes the Mountain is her fate, so she goes in search of her mother and her “true life.” When she arrives she discovers her mother has just died. She sees the devastating poverty of the family. There is so little food, children are in torn clothes, everyone sleeps in the same room, the filth is pervasive and the suggestion of violence permeates the air. Afterwards, as she lays down on the stone floor Mr. Royall’s words come to mind, “Yes, there was a mother; but she was glad to have the child go. She’d have given her to anybody…”[ii]

Charity does not tell Harney she is pregnant, but in this small town their closeness has been noticed and to diffuse the situation he leaves, though he swears he will come back and marry her. But there is no communication on his part and his marriage to someone else is announced.

Pregnant and with no money, Charity has no financial future with which to make choices for her life and once pregnancy enters the picture her chance to leave North Dormer or have any sort of independence is diminished. Royall’s pressure to marry him wears her down and in fact, though she doesn’t realize it at the time, he knows she is pregnant with Harney’s child. In his desire to save Charity’s reputation (and his own, as she is his ward) and to have her for his wife, he is not deterred. Charity and Royall marry.


My thoughts:

Charity’s relationship with Harney develops realistically without fear or guilt, just pure attraction and affection. When Summer was released in 1917, though nothing explicit is described, the subject matter concerning a young woman’s sexual experiences caused quite a stir. Critics say the book was somewhat autobiographical in portraying Wharton’s own sexual awakening at 43 after a long and loveless marriage.

Wharton lived in France when Summer was written coinciding with her involvement with the war effort during WWI. She organized seamstresses to sew for soldiers, established day care centers, visited the front lines, toured hospitals, and raised money for war-related works. During a break in the action she wrote, Summer “at a high pitch of creative joy, but amid a thousand interruptions, while the rest of my being was steeped in the tragic realities of war; yet I do not remember ever visualizing with more intensity the inner scene, or the creatures peopling it.”[iii]

It has been a long time since I pulled so hard for a character to overcome their circumstances and change their life! While I admit to wishing things worked out differently for Charity, Wharton’s realistic portrayal of her plight has an impact even though she does not give her a ‘happy ending.’ She gives Charity a solution and she must make of it what she will; that society is unfair to the poor and to women in minimizing their choices is for the reader to decide.


[i] P. 12.
[ii] P. 184.
[iii] P. vi.

This book qualifies for the Reading New England Challenge and my Classics Club list.

The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton (1947)

My Edition:slavessolitude
Title: The Slaves of Solitude
Author: Patrick Hamilton
Publisher: New York Review Books
Device: Trade Paper
Year: 1947
Pages: 242
For a plot summary

“She was not, she saw, really cut out for small-town, boarding-house life during a war.”[i]

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am so glad to have participated in the #1947Club that introduced me to an author I probably would not have known about otherwise.

The book takes place during World War II and reveals its effect on the residents of the Rosamund Tea Rooms, a boarding house located in the fictional town of Thames Lockdon, on the outskirts of London. The continual threat of German bombs raining down has caused people to flee the city and into many small town boarding houses such as this where intimate living among unrelated people causes chaos and crises. Luckily for Miss Roach (don’t call her Enid), who travels each day to her publishing house job in London her daily commute is a respite from the drama of the boarding house and in particular the torment waged against her by Mr. Thwaites, who has made her his meal-time verbal punching bag to the dismay of not only herself, but the other residents as well.

Into this scene two American soldiers arrive who have contracted with Mrs. Payne the boarding house owner, to eat lunch when they are in town. One of them sets his sights on Miss Roach, who is startled but flattered at the possibilities and they begin a romance of sorts, spending most of their time at the bar in the River Sun public house where their relationship is fueled by too much gin and homesickness.

Added to this is the arrival of Miss Roach’s friend, Vicki Kugelmann, a German native and long-time resident of Britain who moves into the boarding house and completely disrupts the hierarchy of power and the rules and rituals of behavior. The dysfunction starts immediately at Vicki’s first meal in the dining room where she humors Mr. Thwaites’s pokes and put downs of Miss Roach, instead of defending her. And ends with her slow encroachment on the relationship Miss Roach has with her American Lieutenant, Dayton Pike, which culminates in a kissing three-some on a bench in the park. Miss Roach is blessedly rescued from this torment and inexcusable behavior by the inheritance from a dying aunt and moves back to London, her fear of bombs notwithstanding.

My thoughts:
The book captured me from the opening pages. The physical action takes place mostly in the public rooms of the boarding house dining room and lounge, and the River Sun bar. But in my opinion, the real action takes place in the minds of the characters in how they think and feel about each other, what hurts them and what they long for. In that regard, Patrick Hamilton’s writing style reminds me of The House of the Seven Gables; not the story of course, but in the way Nathaniel Hawthorne’s characters ruminate about their lives. Even so, one of the most delightful aspects of The Slaves of Solitude is the humor and the many times I laughed out loud. One example,

The sky had cleared outside, and the sun, low in the sky, now shone into the room with the peculiar yellow brilliance which only a winter sun can achieve. In this hard and revealing light Mr. Thwaites succeeded in looking more immaculately clean and radiantly healthy than ever. There was not even any hope for Miss Roach that Mr. Thwaites would ever die.[ii]  

I also found some historical aspects of the book interesting, most especially in how the war made possible a change in how people lived together and socialized; that bars and public houses that had always been places where men met up with friends to get food and the latest news, was now opened to middle class women for the same reasons. Hamilton makes readers aware of the war’s effect on society as it dragged on and the material elements of daily life became scarce and their diminishment wore everyone down. Miss Roach observes that after people got used to the first great demands on their material possessions, each day found one more item gone from shop shelves and so “now developed into a petty pilferer, incessantly pilfering. You never knew where you were with it, and you could not look round without finding something else gone or going.”[iii]

I noticed other books by Patrick Hamilton on the library’s bookshelf and I imagine I will be back for more.


[i] P. 162.
[ii] P. 65-65.
[iii] P. 101.

Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery (1923)

Or Know your Apple, Know your Century!


I recently reread Emily of New Moon, the first book of three in a series by Anne of Green Gables author L. M. Montgomery and frankly, except for the first Anne book, I like the Emily series better. Emily is very different from Anne in personality type and her series has more magical elements to it. And though like Anne, Emily is also orphaned at a young age, her home life is far from cheerful and she struggles against the oppression of a stern old aunt who not only makes her life difficult, but thwarts her love of writing every chance she gets. But like Anne, she has an indomitable spirit that gets her through the cruel times.

As I read Emily of  New Moon I was struck, as I often am when reading classic literature, about something historical or in this case, gastronomical, that I wanted to know more about; it had to do with apples and in all my years, I had never heard of apples described like this.

For example, when a character bites into an apple, that is usually all the writer says about it, or sometimes with a short description, “Mike bit into a juicy red apple.” And because readers know what a juicy red apple tastes and looks like, we don’t pay it much mind and move on with the character. But if that story takes place in early 20th century Canada or America that apple may not be red, delicious or juicy. Fruit historians call this time period the golden age of apples and the variety was vast.

… in the 19th century, apples came in all shapes, sizes and guises, some with rough, sandpapery skin, others as misshapen as potatoes, ranging from the size of a cherry to bigger than a grapefruit. Colors ran the entire spectrum with a wonderful impressionistic array of patterning—flushes, stripes, splashes, and dots. There was an apple for every community, taste, purpose, and season, with winter varieties especially prized.[i]



Stanley Sloane, Still Life of Dessert Apples

  Emily of New Moon takes place in the early years of the 20th century on Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. New Moon is known for its apples and Emily is standing in the workroom of her neighbor surveying the long row of apples he kept on a beam for Emily and her friends to eat:

Three varieties of Lofty John’s apples were their especial favourites—the “scabby apples,” that looked as if they had leprosy but were of unsurpassed deliciousness under their queer blotched skins; the “little red apples,” scarcely bigger than a crab, deep crimson all over and glossy as satin, that had such a sweet, nutty flavour; and the big green “sweet apples” that children usually thought the best of all. Emily considered that day wasted whose low descending sun had not beheld her munching one of Lofty John’s big green sweets. [ii]

How odd it would sound if we read, “Mike bites into a scabby, leprous-looking apple of wonderful deliciousness.”  But it would be true!



[i] Tim Hensley, A Curious Tale: The Apple in North America

[ii] LM Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, (New York: Bantam), 32. First published in 1923 by Frederick A. Stokes Co.

#TheLiteraryOthers: Uncovered (2015)



This is my first post of possibly three for The Literary Others, a month-long reading event in support of LGBT History Month: October 1-31. Hosted by Roof Beam Reader,  you can find posts and reviews of books on Twitter-#theliteraryothers-and at the master list.

My Edition:uncovered
Title: Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home
Author: Leah Lax
Publisher: She Writes Press
Device: Trade Paper
Year: 2015
Pages: 349
For a plot summary


My thoughts:

When someone in the LGBT community is struggling with their faith tradition’s acceptance of them, it is easy to ask, “Why do you stay if they can’t accept you and if you can’t accept things the way they are?” The answer is complicated as Leah Lax shows in this spiritual memoir of her life as a Hasidic Jew struggling to do God’s will amidst the inner conflicts that plague her life in this strict Jewish sect.

Lax chose to enter Hasidic Judaism after graduating high school, where unquestioning allegiance to the Law gave no outlet for doubts. The rules governed the minutiae of everyday life, which made it a refuge against her chaotic and disordered childhood. There were no gray areas if uncertainties trickled into her mind. Group think and fear of gossip purged any thoughts of rebellion. When Lax married at 19 she hoped her home and religious convictions would mitigate the loneliness that troubled her since childhood.

She dutifully fulfills the command from her Rebbe to “build an everlasting edifice of a Jewish home and family,” and in a succession of years has 7 children. Her husband, unable to show her affection or take any interest in her, works long hours and then comes home to study his holy books.

Profoundly disappointed that marriage was not the healer she had hoped, she is awakened many nights by panic attacks unable to breathe. To add to the discomfort of these nightly assaults into her subconscious is the confusion that they portray her as a man. Though a gnawing sense that her decision to enter this marriage is fraying around the edges, she continues to stay and raise up her children as models of the tradition.

It is only after she hears of the suicide of a young yeshiva boy, who she believes jumped off the roof because he couldn’t live with the knowledge that he was gay, does Lax allow the questions about her own sexuality and doubts about her faith to rise up. Still, she “holds on for the kids” and it is several years before she can truly break free and live an open life.

It is easy to assume someone in the LGBT community should just leave a religion that doesn’t want them and can’t accept their sexual orientation. Yet, Lax shows us how seriously any deeply committed person of faith takes their religion. Because if you truly believe this faith tradition is God’s will for your life, you fight with everything inside you to stay, no matter the questions, the doubts, the personal toll. As long as you can find answers to your questions of confusion, discomfort and disappointment, you will sublimate or ignore even the most deep innate feelings you know about yourself. But once those answers are not good enough and stop making sense, the chinks become cracks, become wide open routes that show you the way out.

I found this book so compelling in its openness and honesty that I read it straight through. I appreciated Lax’s attention to the details of her inner and outer life that reflected her conflicts as a lesbian living as a married Hasidic Jew, how she tried to reconcile those very different things, how she tried so very hard to make it work and then ultimately why she couldn’t.

The book ends with a description of her successful life on the outside as a writer, dog lover and with the new home she has created with her partner. Her children have accepted her new life and she says they were not surprised when she came out to them.

And I was finally able to breathe!


For National Coffee Day I Wrote a Poem!

I am no poet, but something inexplicable comes over me every morning while preparing this magic elixir. So I had to do something about it.*


From the Queen Mary, Long Beach. CA

In the morning. Those first few sips……ahhhhh…….


Oh coffee, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:**

I love thee because you make my eyes and brain sparkle

I love thee because your taste makes me think of exotic, tropical places

I love thee because when I need the buzz, you always come through

I love thee because whether I’m in Reykjavik, New York City or Akron, Ohio a cuppa Joe is a cuppa of Joe

I love thee because MY coffee is so good, I don’t even have to go to Starbucks

and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.


Yes, I am ‘one of those,’ who grounds the coffee and has her own latte maker.🙂


*This is a repost from last year, because, well, you can’t celebrate coffee enough, imo!

**With thanks (and apologies) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Banned Books Week: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

My Edition:witchblackbird
Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Publisher: Dell Yearling
Device: Trade paper
Year: 1958
Pages: 249
For a plot summary

I have chosen three young adult classics to read for Banned Books Week and one to review: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time and The Bridge to Terabithia. Each have been continually challenged or banned by parents and educational organizations since their dates of publication.

I have to say right off the mark this kind of behavior fascinates me. I grew up in a reading household where I freely took books off shelves at home and at my grandparents’ houses and I do not remember my parents ever telling me I couldn’t read something. My relationship with my parents was very open and no question, either personal or educational, was ever off limits. So I suppose if I read something that bothered me, I’d ask them. But I remember discussions, not banning. This is all to say my comments below question the reasons why The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a challenged book.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is set in the late 1600s and tells the story of Kit, who grew up a carefree young girl on a wealthy plantation in Barbados. When she is suddenly orphaned, she sails to Wethersfield, Connecticut to live with her mother’s sister, her husband and their two daughters in their strict Puritan home. She is not used to doing chores and the work of a homestead, nor is she used to the stifled way of thinking which makes her feel like an outsider. She befriends the widow Hannah Tupper, an old Quaker woman shunned by the locals, who lives alone at the edge of the Great Meadow and who understands Kit’s feeling of estrangement. Her home becomes Kit’s refuge. But when the town’s children begin to fall ill, Hannah is accused of casting a spell on them and the townspeople come to take her away. Kit overhears their plans and runs to save Hannah, only to be accused of witchcraft herself.

The trial is harrowing because, once suspicion has been cast, enough townspeople are riled up sufficiently to press the officials “to deal with the witches” and as history has shown, the outcome is never good for the accused. In Hannah’s case, she was already under a great deal of suspicion just for being a Quaker, who didn’t go to (the Puritan) Meeting each week and who kept to herself. But in actuality, it was the townspeople who kept away from her, who never made an effort to know her, which allowed their imagination to fester. If they had visited, they would have seen her like Kit did, a kindhearted old lady who liked company, could spin a neat flax thread and made delicious corn and blueberry muffins.

Kit’s accusations were a little more complicated besides being “guilty” of associating with the Widow Tupper. There was the incident in the river, witnessed by several people of the town, when she jumped into the water to rescue a little girl’s doll. Though swimming was perfectly acceptable in Barbados, in the Colonies one of the tests for women accused of witchcraft was to see if they could float. Only if they sank did that prove their innocence. But the biggest charge against Kit was discovered in a child’s hornbook, where her name was written multiple times and was believed to be the spell or incantation that made the children sick. Fortunately, this was resolved when the little girl came forward to describe how Kit taught her how to write her name by writing it out so she could copy it. She proved right there in front of the officials she was a masterful copier, because her hand looked just like Kit’s. This emboldened some of the townspeople to come to the women’s defense and the charges against them were dropped.

This book has been challenged for promoting witchcraft and violence. But the real threat should be that it promotes ignorance, prejudice and gossip mongering. Ironically, there is no actual witchcraft in the book. It is only in the perceived notion that an old woman alone, living on the edge of town with a cat (that is not even black, btw) must be up to no good. And that when disease breaks out among the town’s children, suspicion turns on this outsider; a condition the town made itself by shunning her in the first place. The dangers of gossip, estrangement, ignorance, and beliefs about a person where there is no proof, not witchcraft, are the real lessons of the book.

And violence? The townspeople came after Hannah and burned down her home and tried to kill her cat. Instead of wanting to ban this book for violence, isn’t this another lesson of how ignorance and prejudice can get out of hand? Once you shun a neighbor and cast her as an outsider who is “not like us,” you can make her responsible for anything.

This book was published in 1958, and it is remarkable or maybe somewhat sad that it still has a message for us today. We live in a world that still practices hate mongering, racism, the shunning of people because of their “lifestyle” or culture, of people who would rather take a video than stop the crime, and there are people and institutions who have turned gossip into an art form. Is any of this productive? Does it moves us forward as a people? Far from being a book that should be banned, The Witch of Blackbird Pond needs to be read and studied for its timely lessons for young people and adults alike.

(Elizabeth George Speare was an award-winning writer of historical fiction for young people. She won the Newberry Medal for both The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow, which takes place during the time of Jesus. Her attention to the details of daily life draw you into the world of her characters and the history they are living.

She is famously quoted after receiving an award,  “I believe that all of us who are concerned with children are committed to the salvaging of Love and Honor and Duty.”)



Perceiving the Equinox


In Southern California, we don’t feel the seasons as dramatically as those in other parts of the country and we often have to rely on the calendar to tell us when a season changes. Over the weekend it suddenly got chilly and Saturday morning was foggy, but this week it is warm again and somewhat steamy and we are still walking around in shorts and flip flops and I am wearing my big, silly hat:


Big hat, beach-biker, Laurie

But we do have one thing in common with everyone else in the Northern Hemisphere, after the Autumnal Equinox sunlight will lessen and darkness will increase. And for the briefest of moments tomorrow, worldwide, the light and the dark will stand in perfect and equal proportion.

Is this moment perceptible? What if we could feel the instant of the equality of light and dark?

If we equated this balance to ourselves, would we feel at perfect peace with all the things that war in our in mind, the personal, the emotional, the professional, the spiritual?


A local cormorant showing off her balancing skills.

Would we feel in that smallest measure of time that everything about ourselves and our lives was manageable?

And if so, what if we could string out that result into hours or days or for the rest of our life?

In my city, that moment will arrive at 7:21am (PDT). This website will help you find your exact time.


The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2006)

My Edition:yearmagicalthinking
Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Vintage International (Random House)
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 2006
Pages: 227
For a plot summary


I like Joan Didion’s work, but when this was originally released my best friend was dying and I just couldn’t touch it. Even though the book wasn’t about cancer, I didn’t want to read about death, as if doing so would be a jinx. And ha! now I understand that was MY bit of magical thinking.

“You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”[i]

On December 30, 2003, as John Dunne was drinking Scotch and talking to his wife as she made them dinner, he had a massive heart attack.

Didion kept notes as a way to chronicle the many stages of grief she experienced during that first year after her husband’s death. I want to say right away this is not a depressing book. There are many moments of humor as is common even in the most grievous of situations. Instead, she chronicles the large and small thoughts and experiences as she tries to come to terms with his death.

The crazy thoughts that run through her mind ask—“could I have prevented his death in some way? Or could he? Were there clues to this impending tragedy that we both missed?”

~When John asked that they move back to New York City, she put him off, but if she hadn’t would that have affected his heart?

~If she alerted him to studies about the efficacy of low dose aspirin would that have saved him (even though she knew he was on the more powerful anticoagulant Coumadin)?

~In that last conversation before dinner he asked if the drink she made him was with single malt Scotch or the other Scotch, “because I don’t think you should mix them.” Did she miss the meaning there?

~Was he trying to tell her something a few years ago when he wondered if they were frittering away their lives and not really living?

“As I recall this I realize how open we are to the persistent messages that we can avert death.”[ii]

In the end, her grief turns to mourning as this first year passes into the second. Already some aspects of her husband are fading and she thinks of this as a betrayal. But she has to go on. She is still here.

Remembering bits of a conversation when they were swimming to a cave where the tide had to be just right to swim in, John said, “You have to feel the swell change. You have to go with the change.”[iii]


[i] p. 3.
[ii] p. 206.
[iii] p. 227.

Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915)

My Edition:herland.jpeg
Title: Herland
Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Publisher: Dover Publications
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1915
Pages: 124
For a plot summary

There was no accepted standard of what was ‘manly and what was ‘womanly.’…When Jeff said to Celis, “Women should not carry anything…they are not built for heavy work. Celis looked out across the fields to where some women were working, building a new bit of wall out of large stones; looked back at the nearest town with its woman-built houses; down at the smooth, hard road they were walking on; and then at the little basket he had taken from her. “I don’t understand, are the women in your country so weak that they could not carry such a thing as that?[i]


I was so disappointed by Edward Bellamy’s depiction of women in his utopian novel, Looking Backward, that I found myself pining for a more positive view. I remembered I had Herland on my shelf and pulled it off only to find in the introduction the author was inspired by Bellamy! Charlotte Perkins Gilman was already known for her autobiographical, The Yellow Wallpaper, which exposed the chilling and harrowing methods of the ‘rest cure’ forced on some women when depression and the inability to cope made living impossible. Surely, she had a more affirmative and supportive concept about women in her utopia?

Happily for me, Herland presents a stable and progressive environment, a well-planned framework for a new way of life. The novel, in a parallel to Looking Backward, is based around conversations, in this case, between the three male explorers and their three female teachers.

The plot is simple enough. Three young men, Terry the rich boy, Van the sociologist and Jeff the doctor and friends since college have joined an expedition somewhere in Central or South America, the exact location is not made clear, where the native guides tell tales of a land of women high up in the mountains where there are no men or male children. One of the guides shows them a piece of cloth made with extraordinary skill that looks nothing like the work of local people. The three men vow to come back and find this land which they do a year later.

And the tales they heard are true. It IS a land of women, who have created a country of beauty, peace, culture and education without the aid of men. And poor Terry, who is certain the women have been waiting centuries for him spends the entire trip trying to prove it, but to no avail. Van and Jeff are eager to learn and understand the history and society of the country and it is through conversations with their three teachers, Zava, Moadine and Somel that we learn how the land came to be.

Two thousand years ago, after a series of wars, though they built fortresses and had skilled warriors, the men were unable to stave off attacks from other tribes and all were killed. This left women, young girls and old slave women as the only inhabitants when the final blow, a volcanic outburst, sealed off the pass below and penned them up against the mountains. There was no escape. After the initial despair where some women suggested suicide, the majority made the decision to live. The slave women taught them invaluable skills and they learned to work the tools and equipment of various trades. They had records and archives with their history, which they learned and added to as the centuries went by.

But the question had to be asked: if there were no men for two thousand years, how did they populate? For about 10 years after they were sealed in by the volcano, the remaining women plucked up the courage to plan a future as best they could. They cleaned up the land by working together and grew strong and wise and more and more mutually attached, until a miracle occurred: one young woman bore a girl child… a direct gift from the gods, they believed. She bore four more—all girls. The miracle continued as each woman, upon reaching the age of 25, bore her first child, until she, too, had five. But as the centuries passed and overpopulation threatened the land, the process settled on one child a piece.

“Babies are raised communally after a year spent with their mother, though even then, the mother is never far from her child. School and education is an environment calculated to allow the riches, freest growth….”[ii]

The children grow up in a system of education that draws out their talents and abilities to things they love and are good at so when they enter the work force work is a delight and a joyous contribution to the nation. This notion that education is for discovering what we’re good at and love is like Bellamy’s system, except that his excludes women, whose highest contribution to society is to procreate, with ‘careers’ only auxiliary, not part of the needs of the nation.

I should mention here that in Herland, motherhood, too, is lauded as the supreme achievement with babies loved and adored by the whole community. However, it is acknowledged that not every woman will have or want to have a child, a decision that is honored and respected. In Bellamy’s new world as in his real 19th century world, a woman who does not want to have children is looked on with derision, even suspicion.

It may be that Gilman’s perspective on motherhood is also a reflection of her ideas about women and work and the insistence that women have choices over their life. This may have also been a reaction against the criticism Gilman received when she gave up her daughter to be raised by her first husband so she could concentrate on her work. He remarried her best friend and the three were close, but the act of voluntarily giving up her child for such a “selfish” reason was looked upon as extremely “umotherly.”

Gilman also explores femininity in Herland. The women here are not ‘feminine’ in the way Terry, Van and Jeff are accustomed. It is confusing enough for them that society functions just fine in every area without men and Gilman uses this as a platform to explore this new womanhood. The three are educated about Herland for months together and individually by their three teachers, Zava, Moadine and Somel, whom they affectionately call “The Colonels.” The lack of sexual dynamics and their notions of femininity are confusing to the men. That the women of Herland created a land of peace and plenty, built streets and edifices, figured out food sources and methods of feeding 3 million people, developed laws and education without the guidance and organization skills of men, is an almost impossible concept for Terry, Van and Jeff.

Van: “Here you have human beings…but what we were slow in understanding was how these ultra-women, inheriting only from women, had eliminated not only certain masculine characteristics…but so much of what we had always thought essentially feminine….The tradition of men as guardians and protectors had quite died out. These stalwart virgins had no men to fear and therefore no need of protection.”

Terry, with sarcasm, “It’s likely women—just a pack of women—would have hung together like that! We all know women can’t organize—that they scrap like anything—are frightfully jealous.”

Jeff: “But these New Ladies didn’t have anyone to be jealous of, remember?”[iii]

What a blow to Terry who is observing a land where he is not needed and that frankly works better without men!

And in fact, Terry, the prized catch of manhood in his former life has the most difficult time. I think Gilman uses him to illustrate every sexist and chauvinistic word men ever said about women! Even after the men are accepted into society, learn the language and are educated on the history of the county, Terry refuses to accept that a country can actually exist without men and that in truth, the women MUST have been waiting just for him. As imagined, he causes the most problems, cannot accept what he sees and longs to get home to ‘real women.’ In a remarkable observation Van says, “those feminine charms we are so fond of are not feminine at all but mere reflected masculinity—developed to please us because they had to please us and in no way essential to the real fulfillment of their great process.”[iv]

Gilman explores many aspects of society, including religion

…they had a clear established connection between everything they did—and God. Their cleanliness, their health, their exquisite order, the rich peaceful beauty of the whole land, the happiness of the children, and above all the constant progress they made—all this was their religion….They applied their mind to the thought of God, and worked out the theory that such an inner power demanded outward expression. They lived as if God was real and at work within them.[v]

And relationships, because of course, there is romance! But between whom and whether they stay in Herland would be a spoiler, so you’ll have to read the book to find out. Hint: Poor Terry….

That this beautiful, stable, evolving world exists because women are cooperative with each other, that they are smart, are able to take their talents and abilities both physical and mental to their highest potential, have created culture and art is what Charlotte Perkins Gilman, writer and feminist, was working for in 19th/20th century America. It is hard to remember women once had to fight for the right to be smart and capable, to freely take their talents and abilities as far as they could, to create whatever kind of life they wanted.

It makes me laugh, knowing all I do now, to think of us three boys—nothing else, three audacious impertinent boys—butting into an unknown country without any sort of a guard or defense. We seemed to think that if there were men we could fight them, and if there were only women—why, they would be no obstacles at all.[vi]

Was Herland a reaction to Looking Backward? Or Gilman’s singular attempt to design a world where women were not only safe from the violence of men, they were also physically competent and smart and educated enough to build and care for their own society? Looking forward, taking the best from both, they have the potential to create a good decent society where each person is valued for their individuality, yet part of the whole.

[i] p. 79.
[ii] p. 87.
[iii] p. 49-50.
[iv] p. 50
[v] p. 8.
[vi] p. 18.


Book Challenges and Read-a-thons Fall 2016

I have been book blogging one year today! It is a remarkable community to learn and share with. One of the ways I have benefited personally is having joined book challenges and readathons where I have discovered new authors and titles. I had no idea of the diversity and number of these. In fact, I think there must be a challenge or readathon for every taste or genre or event imaginable!

When I first started blogging last year I discovered R.I.P. too late to join and totally missed Banned Books Week, but kept them in my sights for this year. Like I need another challenge or 5 with all I have to do in my life, I did indeed sign up for 5.

Even if you are not a book blogger, but like to read these group events are a wonderful way to find people you may have a lot in common with and books you might otherwise have never heard. That was certainly true for me as I was researching titles for the 1947 club. Yes, a book challenge of reading books published in the year 1947. I told you🙂

I may not get through all the books, but here is my wishlist for these challenges: Click on the hot links for more information and to sign up!

R.I.P (R.eaders I.imbibing P.eril) XI, September 1-October 31 2016.
Read horror, ghost, vampire, mystery, thriller. Multiple levels of participation. Read one book or lots. Watch movies or read short stories.

~The Case of Charles Dexter Ward-HP Lovecraft
~Frankenstein-Mary Shelley
~Several short stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, including Carmilla, Green Tea, Schalken the Painter
~Elizabeth Gaskell, The Old Nurses Story
~Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children-Ransom Riggs
~The Haunting of Hill House-Shirley Jackson. One of my favorite films (the original, of course), which I will watch again. I have never read the book.
~I discovered I have a copy of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula which I will also watch

Banned Books Week, September 25-October 1 2016
Celebrated internationally, read or become familiar with titles that have been banned in the past or are being challenged now. I am participating in an event hosted by Little Book Owl.

~The Witch of Blackbird Pond-Elizabeth George Speare
banned for promoting violence and witchcraft
~A Wrinkle in Time-Madeleine L’Engle
one of the most frequently banned books of all time
~The Giver-Lois Lowry
banned for violence, language, objectionable themes. From an adult point of view, without taking into consideration the point of the book at what happens in a society without choices in life.
~Bridge to Terebithia-Katherine Paterson
banned for language, religion, sad ending (“the idea that a book is depressing or upsetting is often used as a rationale for wanting a book banned. “)

The Literary Others: An LGBT Reading Event during LGBT History Month October 1-31 2016. Hosted by Roof Beam Reader. Fiction, nonfiction, sci fi, poetry, plays, audio books. I’m reading a mix of fiction and non.

~Well of Loneliness-Radclyffe Hall
~Santa Olivia-Jacqueline Carey
~Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home-Leah Lax
~Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How it Can Revitalize Christianity-Rev Elizabeth N. Edman
~The Picture of Dorian Gray-Oscar Wilde

The 1947 Club October 10-16 2016
Hosted by Stuck in a Book read anything published in 1947!

~A Girl in Winter-Philip Larkin
~One Fine Day-Mollie Panter-Downs
~The Slaves of Solitude-Patrick Hamilton
~Final Curtain-Ngaio Marsh

Witch Week October 31-November 6 2016
Hosted by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review, read about witches or anything magical or fantasy. And enjoy a group reading of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

~Something Wicked This Way Comes-Ray Bradbury
~Witch of Blackbird Pond-
Elizabeth George Speare
~House Witch-
Katie Schickel
~Girl who Drank the Moon-
Kelly Regan Barnhill

Ok, bye. I’d better get a crackin’🙂