Feminist Utopian Novels of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Themes of Sexuality, Marriage, and Motherhood

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Challenges Gilman critics who reject the author’s sexual politics as no longer relevant to contemporary liberal ideals.


. . Chloé Avril’s study directs new and innovative critical attention to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novels. . . . appl[ies] Gilman’s perspectives to contemporary issues while at the same time placing the queries and predicaments in Gilman’s novels within a well-researched contemporaneous perspective.” – Prof. Kirsten Shands, Södertörn University College

“The author expertly shows how Gilman used the utopian drama to dramatize her own vision of gender equality, and how, even more importantly, this vision has in the light of recent feminist debate gained renewed relevance in the twenty-first century.” - Prof. Janina Nordius, University of Gothenburg

“. . . places the unresolved tensions of Gilman’s dramatizations of feminist dilemmas in a volatile dialogue with contemporary debates. . . . unblinkingly dissects the problems with Gilman’s utopian solutions, but she goes one step further than to simply ascribe to them a datedness which would render them museum pieces. This study shows that the very contradictions and flaws that have made later feminists pass over Gilman’s utopias in silence or with a condescending dismissal is what make them worth considering today, precisely because they point to deep structural dilemmas." - Prof. Bo G. Ekelund, Stockholm University

Table of Contents

Sexuality, marriage, and motherhood are not only three fundamental aspects of shared experience in the lives of women where patriarchal power and control have a decisive impact. They are the central concerns in the writings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), not least in her utopian novels—Moving the Mountain (1911), Herland (1915), With Her in Ourland (1916). Dismissed in its day, her work was later discovered by second-wave feminists in the women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and the 1970s. This study of her utopian novels, which focuses on these three areas of experience, argues that Gilman’s understanding of the fundamental link between personal relationships—of women as lovers, wives, and mothers—and her broader political aims of transforming society remains a radical starting point for present-day feminists. Gilman understood at an early stage the importance of the utopian genre, both as a way of criticizing the existing order as well as providing an image of an alternative future that could inspire her readers to action.

Preface by Prof. Kerstin Shands
1. Introduction: “Who should know but the woman?”
2. Sexuality
3. Marriage
4. Motherhood
5. Conclusion

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