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Written by Timothy Sexton
Vandyck Jennings is the narrator of Herland, a sociologist by trade, but an explorer by heart. He is joined by two other male explorers who stumble upon a utopian civilization of women which gives the book its title. In addition to being a sociologist and explorer, Van—as he is more familiarly known—is also something of a philosopher; at least, he is the most philosophical member of the group of men who discover a society unlike anything they have ever confronted in the world outside the environs of Herland.
Terry O. Nicholson
As a hardcore icon of the capitalist spirit existing outside those environs, Terry is the motivating force that brings a male presence into the feminist utopia of Herland. As a successful capitalist, Terry is also a hardcore icon of the spirit of male chauvinism and so brings a mindset into this female-only domain that all independent women are merely biding their time waiting for a man to come along and dominate them. Terry’s relationship with Alima hinges upon his finally arriving at an understanding that in adopting this perspective, he is an idiot. Having never come across women who really and genuinely have no need for a man at all—much less the need to be dominated by them---the future does not look bright for Terry in Herland.
The last of the trio of male explorers whose arrival in Herland threatens to turn finely tuned society upside down is a botanist who holds a view toward women some might suggest is the exact opposite of Terry. Jeff was reared on the traditions of the South where women are put upon a pedestal and viewed as a collective entity emanating romantic ideals of grace, femininity and refinement. His perspective is put to the test among the robustly non-idealized examples of femininity expressed by the inhabitants of Herland. Jeff also falls for one of those inhabitants and remains consistent in his desire to demonstrate to Celis that she should somehow want him to protect her.
Lest anyone think that only Terry and Jeff were capable of going into Herland and finding romance, rest assured that the relationship between Ellador and Van probably has the greatest chances of success. Not because Vandyck Jennings is more successful at convincing one of the inhabitants of this society that the ideals of femininity instilled in them through Victorian values is the correct way to be, but rather by being more flexible and open-minded about the ways in which Ellador is really the author’s iconic definition of the perfect antagonist to all those conventions.
Jeff is not quite ready to embrace the idea of women being perfect capable of enjoying life without the presence or benefit of men, but there is one particular aspect to Celis that increases the odds that they will also enjoy a long-lasting relationship. That aspect is the fact that Celis becomes the first member of the Herland society to give birth as a result of the traditional means of procreation employed throughout the world outside the female utopia, but not employed within its borders for more than 2,000 years.
Herland should not be confused with some sort of society of the kind in which Logan makes his run after turning 30 years old. Woman may not reproduce in the conventional manner, but they do age. One of the older women in Herland is Moadine and she is charged with the unenviable task of tutoring the newest addition to the population of utopia. Terry, always the chauvinist, tries to demonstrate the natural superiority of men by exhibiting to the other men how very easy it is to trick her. Van truly is an example of the intelligent male by recognizing that whenever Terry is convinced he has outfoxed the old woman, Moadine is the one actually establishing dominance by not only recognizing the trickster quality of Nicholson, but being wise enough to let him go on thinking he is the smarter of the two.
Alima seems to be the author’s personification of all those women who marry in such a way that they must spend the rest of their life defending themselves against the question of why they would marry someone like him. Alima for reasons of her own is drawn to Terry which leads to a rather turbulent romance that climaxes in his trying to force himself upon her against her will. This brings an exilic conclusion to the tempestuous liaison.
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