The Means and Ends of Genre in the Short Fiction of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Janet Beer


Charlotte Perkins Gilman never wrote anything without having an ideal reader for her text in mind. In an extensive treatise on ethics and society, His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers, published in 1923, she wrote: ‘For women already educated enough to grasp the facts and their relations, and able to make a conviction work, it should require no more than a book or two, a lecture or two, to start swifter social evolution’.1 With such a faith in the capacity of her readers to bring about change she wrote to a definite purpose and the various and many genres she employed were exploited for all they were worth to serve her didactic intentions. In her monthly magazine, The Forerunner, which she published between 1909 and 1916 she worked in a variety of genres as a matter of course. As Ann J. Lane notes in her biography of Gilman, To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ‘She wrote every line of the thirty-two-page magazine herself. Each issue contained editorials, comments and observations, critical essays, book reviews, poetry, and fiction. Each year two full-length books were serialized, ordinarily one fiction and one non-fiction’.2


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  1. 1.
    Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers, 1923 (New York: Hyperion reprint, 1976), p. 91.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lane, Ann J. To Herland and Beyond: The Life and Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, (New York: Meridian, 1991), p. 278.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Kessler, Carol Farley Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Her Progress Toward Utopia with Selected Writings (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995), pp. 182–185.Google Scholar
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    Knight, Denise D. (ed.) ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Selected Stories of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1994), pp. 206–9.Google Scholar
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    Gilman, Charlotte Perkins Herland and Selected Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Barbara H. Solomon (ed.) (New York: Signet Classic, 1992), p. 116.Google Scholar
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    Ann J. Lane (ed.) The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader (London: The Women’s Press, 1981), pp. 57–65.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    Gilman, Charlotte Perkins Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution, 1898, reprinted. Carl N. Degler (New York, Harper Torchbooks, 1966), p. 5.Google Scholar
  8. 28.
    Todorov, Tzvetan The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (Ithaca, Cornell U.P., 1975), p. 64.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Janet Beer 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet Beer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishRoehampton InstituteLondonUK

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