This edition of What Diantha Did
makes newly available Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s first novel, complete with an in-depth introduction. First published serially in Gilman’s magazine The Forerunner
in 1909–10, the novel tells the story of Diantha Bell, a young woman who leaves her home and her fiancé to start a housecleaning business. A resourceful heroine, Diantha quickly expands her business into an enterprise that includes a maid service, cooked food delivery service, restaurant, and hotel. By assigning a cash value to women’s “invisible” work, providing a means for the well-being and moral uplift of working girls, and releasing middle-class and leisure-class women from the burden of conventional domestic chores, Diantha proves to her family and community the benefits of professionalized housekeeping.
In her introduction to the novel, Charlotte J. Rich highlights Gilman’s engagement with such hotly debated Progressive Era issues as the “servant question,” the rise of domestic science, and middle-class efforts to protect and aid the working girl. She illuminates the novel’s connections to Gilman’s other feminist works, including “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Herland; to her personal life; and to her commitment to women’s social and economic freedom. Rich contends that the novel’s engagement with class and race makes it particularly significant to the newly complex understanding of Gilman that has emerged in recent scholarship. What Diantha Did provides essential insight into Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s important legacy of social thought.