Victorian Literature Elizabeth Robins
by
Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, Alexandra Paddock
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0154

Introduction

Elizabeth Robins (b. 1862–d. 1952) was an American actress, novelist, playwright, short story author, suffragist campaigner, journalist, and theatre manager who spent most of her career in Britain. A key champion of Ibsen’s plays in England, she founded her own theatre company along with fellow actress Marion Lea in order to produce some of Ibsen’s plays, premiering roles such as Hedda Gabler and Hilde Wangel. As a dramatist, she is best known for her play Votes for Women! (1907), which played a central role in the suffrage movement. Her anonymously published and performed play Alan’s Wife (1893), coauthored with Lady Florence Bell, explored taboo themes such as infanticide, postpartum depression, and euthanasia. She wrote many works of fiction under the pseudonym C. E. Raimond. Her unpublished works, housed in the New York University Library’s Fales Collection, are extensive and largely unexplored, and include letters, diaries, journals, promptbooks, plays, novels, and other prose works. Robins was born in Kentucky, and spent much of her childhood on Staten Island, New York. Her mother’s mental health in decline (she died in an institution in 1901), Robins developed a close relationship with her youngest brother, Raymond, and also found support in her grandmother. Robins grew interested in drama and at age nineteen embarked on a stage career, first in New York and then in Boston. She married fellow actor George Richmond Parks in 1885. Two years later, he committed suicide by walking into the Charles River wearing a suit of stage armor. Robins then went on a grueling tour across the country with Edwin Booth before making England her home from the mid-1880s onward, though she remained an American citizen. Her lucky break came with the plays of Ibsen, who was then beginning to be staged in Britain. Robins’s last stage appearance was in 1902. For the remainder of her long career, Robins wrote constantly, both nonfiction and fiction, and continued to spearhead the women’s suffrage movement. She helped direct the feminist journal Time and Tide in the 1920s. Although firmly aligned with feminism and a leading New Woman writer, Robins moved in circles whose members have become part of a male-centric canon (James, Shaw, Wilde, Masefield, and many others), and critical reception and interpretation of her work have often been fractured because of this diffused identity across many different areas of work, as well as her own ambivalence about marriage and motherhood (she remained single and childless). Robins has long been studied by theatre historians, feminist studies scholars, and Ibsen specialists and is now receiving attention for her relevance to medical humanities, as her work deals extensively with hereditary disease, euthanasia, women and illness, female alcoholism, biological determinism, and mental disorder. Much scholarship still remains to be done, particularly on her prose fiction and in mining the vast archives of unpublished material in the Fales Collection.

General Overviews and Biographies

There are two major biographies: Gates 1994 and John 1995. These are still the most comprehensive surveys of Robins across the many areas of her life and work. Scholarly attention has focused overwhelmingly on Robins’s work in the 1890s as an actress, Ibsen champion, and playwright, as evidenced by most of the entries in this bibliography, but Park 2003 and Thomas 1993[?] both pay considerable attention to Robins’s other writings, and Gates 1994 gives a good sense of the vast archives of unpublished material produced by Robins that have yet to be fully mined.

  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. “Robins, Elizabeth.” In Encyclopædia Britannica. 12th ed. London and New York, 1922.

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    Chisholm very briefly characterizes Robins’s professional life, including her training as an actress, significant performances in London from 1889 to 1902, her novels written under pseudonyms and her own name from 1894 to 1920, and her work for female suffrage, including her 1907 play, Votes for Women! This text is available via wikisource.

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    • Gates, Joanna E. Elizabeth Robins 1862–1952: Actress, Novelist, Feminist. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1994.

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      Gates draws on unpublished archival sources that she has been instrumental in making public, and she frames each chapter with a miniature dramatic dialogue in which she imagines each phase of Robins’s life as it might be staged. Gates explores Robins’s writing “in the context of her developing feminist aesthetic,” of which Robins’s career as an actress and Ibsen champion forms a part but is not the main focus here.

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      • John, Angela V. Elizabeth Robins: Staging a Life 1862–1952. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

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        John’s comprehensive biography examines Robins’s sense of self-presentation, comparing her various modes of self-framing throughout her life. She draws on Robins’s papers, including unpublished drafts of her writing, in order to trace how Robins engaged with life-writing, and also to show how this examination inevitably re-evaluates John’s own scholarly purpose as a biographer. Includes extensive illustrations and appendices on Robins’s theatre appearances, publications, and suffragist writing.

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        • John, Angela V. “Robins, Elizabeth.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Rev. ed. Edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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          Drawing on her work in Staging a Life, John outlines Robins’s life from birth to death, highlighting her early life in the United States, her acting career in London, and her work with Florence Bell and Henry James. John then parallels Robins’s emerging suffragism with her transition into writing as her main profession, and also details Robins’s late interest in memoir and biography before her death. First published 2004.

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          • Kelly, Katherine E. “Elizabeth Robins (1862–1952).” In British Playwrights, 1860–1956: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Edited by William Demastes. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

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            Alphabetically ordered entries in this volume include Robins as a significant British playwright in the period (although she was US-born). Kelly emphasizes Robins’s work as a stage manager, playwright, and polemicist, as well as a leading Ibsen actress, and her increasing turn from theatre to writing at the age of forty, in 1902 (with the exception of her play Votes for Women! in 1907). The entry also includes a list of major works, archival sources, and a bibliography.

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            • MacKay, Carol Hanbery. Creative Negativity: Four Victorian Exemplars of the Female Quest. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

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              Robins is grouped with poet-photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, novelist-essayist Anne Thackeray Ritchie, and activist-spiritualist Annie Besant as wielders of “creative negativity,” Mackay’s term for a complex transhistorical feminist tactic that they practice in different ways as part of a “female quest.” This notion sheds light on Robins’s exceptionally diverse career as one long creative interpretation of herself; an attempt at female self-expression in a male-dominated world.

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              • Park, Sowon. “Elizabeth Robins.” In Literary Encyclopedia. Edited by Robert Clark. London: Literary Dictionary, 2003.

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                Park provides a brief overview of Robins’s career and links to the full texts of several of her works spanning 1894–1908, including George Mandeville’s Husband, The New Moon, Below the Salt and Other Stories, The Magnetic North, The Convert, and Come and Find Me. This article can be accessed by institutional subscription to The Literary Encyclopedia.

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                • Rudolph, Laura C. “Robins, Elizabeth.” In American National Biography. Edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark Christopher Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                  Comprehensive summary of Robins’s life and career, with particular attention to North American contexts, including authors Robins knew or who reviewed her work.

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                  • Thomas, Sue. Elizabeth Robins. Victorian Fiction Research Guides 22. 1993[?].

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                    This comprehensive guide to Robins’s life and career predates and indeed anticipates the published biographies by Gates and John. Most of Robins’s published works, as well as some of her unpublished ones, are discussed and briefly contextualized. This was originally a print source and readers should be warned that in the process of digitization some typographical errors have crept in, which can be distracting. Consulting the original print version would be preferable to using the online one.

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                    • Whitebrook, Peter. William Archer: A Biography. London: Methuen, 1993.

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                      In exploring the life and career of Ibsen’s main champion and translator, Whitebrook also devotes much space to Robins, whom he presents (with reasonably persuasive evidence) as Archer’s lover. He also gives insight into her influential participation in late Victorian theatre as well as that of other actresses at the time including Bernhardt, Terry, and Duse.

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                      Published Correspondence

                      Robins’s extensive correspondence is still largely unpublished. Specific areas of it have been explored, for example in Kenny, et al. 1996 on Robins’s exchanges with Stead and in Marcus 1978 on her correspondence with Pankhurst, but these are highly focused investigations and much still remains to be done in fully excavating her wide-ranging and often deeply personal letters to illuminate her life and work.

                      • Kenny, Thomas J., J. O. Baylen, and Alan Cooper. “Epistolary Amours: Stead’s Friendship with Elizabeth Robins.” NewsStead 8 (Spring 1996): 27–28.

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                        Excerpts of William Stead’s letters to Robins are included here by Kenny, printed in chronological order from 1891 to 1906, though Kenny notes that the acquaintance continued until Stead’s death on the Titanic several years later. In addition, J. O. Baylen includes very brief excerpts of Stead’s affectionate addresses to Robins as “Hedda” in some of these letters.

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                        • Marcus, Jane. “Transatlantic Sisterhood: Labor and Suffrage Links in the Letters of Elizabeth Robins and Emmeline Pankhurst.” Signs 3.3 (Spring 1978): 744–755.

                          DOI: 10.1086/493534Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Drawing on archival research, Marcus, one of the earliest Robins scholars, places Robins within the context of the study of feminist philosophy. Biographical in its approach, this article closes with a series of Robins’s letters of suffragette solidarity, and argues for Robins’s engagement with class myths around feminist philosophy in her period.

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                          Primary Materials

                          Robins’s lengthy career spans the Victorian and the modern. She published prolifically in many different genres and formats but also left prodigious unpublished materials. Listed are the most accessible and/or authoritative editions of Robins’s major writings of the period from the 1880s through the 1910s; the unpublished material spans from the 1880s to 1963.

                          Unpublished Materials

                          The Elizabeth Robins Papers reside in the Fales Collection at New York University Library. The archive comprises one hundred linear feet of documents, including full-length works, drafts, unfinished works, diaries, photographs, scrapbooks, and ephemera, and spans the years from 1903 to 1963. Scholars will also find many of Robins’s unpublished works available on Gates’s Elizabeth Robins Web.

                          • Elizabeth Robins Papers. New York: Fales Library and Special Collections, MSS 002.

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                            Guidance to this wealth of unpublished material, among which are such works as The Mirkwater, The Silver Lotus, Discretion, and The Herstory of a Button, can be found in the Guide to Elizabeth Robins Papers.

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                            • Gates, Joanne E. “Stitches in a Critical Time: The Diaries of Elizabeth Robins, American Feminist in England, 1907–1924.” A/B: Auto/Biography Studies 4.2 (Winter 1988): 130–139.

                              DOI: 10.1080/08989575.1988.10814978Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Focuses on the diaries Robins kept from 1907 to 1924, charting her increasing involvement in the suffrage movement and women’s political issues. Though not claiming their literary merit, Gates argues that these diaries are essential both to situating Robins’s “place in history” and to revealing the emergence of her personality through her private writing, locating her in “an important gallery of notable American women” like Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Nancy Astor.

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                              • Gates, Joanne E., project dir. The Elizabeth Robins Web.

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                                An extensive online resource, hosted on the Jacksonville State University website, which gathers together texts and contexts detailing Robins’ multifaceted career and particularly addressing Alan’s Wife, Come and Find Me, My Little Sister, The Open Question, Way Stations; Robins’s shorter and unpublished works; photographs; and Robins’s experience in Alaska. Gates 1988 explores Robins’s diaries (from 1880 until the 1940s), which remain in the Fales Collection.

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                                • Weber, Brenda R. “Channeling Charlotte: Woman’s Secret and Great Powers in Elizabeth Robins’ White Violets.” Women’s Writing 18.4 (November 2011): 486–504.

                                  DOI: 10.1080/09699082.2011.600046Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Focusing on Robins’s unpublished novel White Violets, Weber looks at Robins’s balancing of inheritance and progress in the exploration of women’s writing, gender, propriety, and personality through her fictional rival-writer characters, Selina and Barbara, and the third, ghostly and writerly, presence of Charlotte Brontë. Weber examines “revision” within both the novel’s plot and its textual history, relating this to ascendant ideas of the New Woman.

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                                  Memoirs

                                  Robins’s recollections of her involvement with the plays of Ibsen (Robins 1928 and Robins 1940) and with British theatre more broadly in the 1890s, in particular her relationship with Henry James (Robins 1932), provide unrivaled insight into late-19th-century theatrical culture, Ibsen’s breakthrough in London, and her own working life as an actress, and have laid the foundation for the scholarship on her.

                                  • Jamieson, Michael. “An American Actress at Balmoral.” Theatre Research International 2 (1977): 117–131.

                                    DOI: 10.1017/S0307883300001504Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    An extended biographical narrative, with some fictional license and tone, of Robins’s 1893 presentation at Balmoral. In addition to material held in the Royal Archives at Windsor, the article draws principally on a typescript, now in the Fales Library of New York University, written up by Robins two years later from her now-lost diary entries about the event.

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                                    • Powell, Kerry. “‘Oscar Wilde: An Appreciation’: An Unpublished Memoir by Elizabeth Robins.” Nineteenth Century Theatre (Winter 1993): 101–113.

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                                      Powell publishes for the first time this memoir, which resides in the Fales Collection; it was written around 1950 and recalls Robins’s friendship with Wilde from their first meeting in 1888 (a week after her arrival in London) through to his death. The memoir thus spans the crucial period of Wilde’s rise and fall in the commercial theatre, Ibsen’s breakthrough in Britain, and Robins’s struggles to create theatre in a male-dominated system and her greatest successes as an actress.

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                                      • Robins, Elizabeth. Ibsen and the Actress. London: Hogarth Press, 1928.

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                                        This essay (originally given as a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts in 1928) demonstrates the revolutionary impact of Ibsen’s plays on the actress during the late 19th century. Robins also gives invaluable firsthand accounts of seeing Ibsen’s plays in London.

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                                        • Robins, Elizabeth. Theatre and Friendship: Letters of Henry James. London: Jonathan Cape, 1932.

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                                          Maps a developing friendship, based on mutual admiration as well as a love of the theatre and of Ibsen’s work in particular, and gives firsthand accounts of theatre-making and theatre-going in 1890s London. The letters include commentary by Robins, and taken as a whole the volume provides a unique account of theatre of this time from the inside out.

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                                          • Robins, Elizabeth. Both Sides of the Curtain. London: Heinemann, 1940.

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                                            Depicts Robins’s life after settling in London, including travels through Scandinavia (with a visit to Ibsen) and her life as an actress and theatre manager. Describes how she and fellow actress Marion Lea founded their own company, Joint Management, to stage unlicensed Ibsen plays, with the support of William Archer, who may also have been Robins’s lover at the time. As Gail Marshall points out (see Oxford Bibliographies article in Victorian Studies “Actresses”), the book provides “a useful account of the London stage and the transatlantic world in the 1890s.”

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                                            Novels and Other Prose Works Published by Robins

                                            In the 1890s, Robins published extensively under the name “C. E. Raimond,” a pseudonym that simultaneously masked her gender and affectionately acknowledged her youngest brother, Raymond. Her novels include George Mandeville’s Husband (1894), The New Moon (1895), Below the Salt (1896), and The Open Question (1898). The public outrage caused by the publication of Robins’s story “A Lucky Sixpence” in the New Review in 1894 (anonymously) is discussed in Thomas 1995 (cited under “A Lucky Sixpence”). From 1900, she published many novels and other prose works under her own name, including The Alaska-Klondike Diary of Elizabeth Robins (1900), The Magnetic North (1904), A Dark Lantern (1905), The Convert (1907), Come and Find Me (1907–1908), and The Mills of the Gods (conceived in 1898 and serialized in the Fortnightly Review in 1908; published as a novel in 1908 and again in 1920). In particular, The Convert has received much critical attention in recent years from, e.g., Eltis 2013, Joseph 2006, Moon 2017, Parkins 2007, and Winkiel 2004 (all cited under The Convert). Robins went on to publish Where are You Going to. . .? (1913), which was published in America as My Little Sister (1913), and Camilla (1918), The Messenger (1920), and Time is Whispering (1923). Her most notable feminist nonfiction includes Way Stations (1913), a collection of speeches and articles pertaining to women’s suffrage, and Ancilla’s Share: An Indictment of Sex Antagonism (1924), studied in depth by Marcus 1978 (cited under The Open Question) and Thomas 2001. Hite 2017 sheds new light on the relationship between Robins and Woolf.

                                            Ancilla’s Share

                                            An “angry and audacious” (John 1995, cited under General Overviews and Biographies) exploration of sex antagonism through history, this work of nonfiction, published anonymously, was too strong and polemical for most readers and sold poorly. Yet it prefigures Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and its analysis of sexist language is still highly relevant. Indeed, Hite 2017 shows how deeply Woolf engaged with Robins’s writing.

                                            • Hite, Molly. Woolf’s Ambiguities: Tonal Modernism, Narrative Strategy, Feminist Precursors. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017.

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                                              Hite compares Woolf’s work with Robins’s and explores the illuminating connections between Woolf’s A Room of One’s OwnMrs Dalloway, and The Voyage Out and Robins’s My Little Sister, A Dark Lantern, Ancilla’s Share, and other works.

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                                              • Thomas, Sue. “Miss Robins and Mrs. Brown.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 20.1 (Spring 2001): 33–55.

                                                DOI: 10.2307/464466Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Looks at Time is Whispering and Ancilla’s Share to investigate questions of genre, Robins’s feminist and aesthetic reservations about modernist writing, and her definition of the psychology of modernism.

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                                                The Convert

                                                One of her most successful novels, The Convert (1907) is an adaptation of Robins’s play Votes for Women! (written 1906, staged 1907), featuring the same plot and characters and including scenes based on actual suffrage meetings complete with hostile, heckling men and passionate speeches by suffragettes. Militant suffrage campaigners are noble and compassionate rather than abrasive troublemakers as so often in the popular press, and the novel successfully integrates history, propaganda, feminism, and humor.

                                                • Eltis, Sos. Acts of Desire: Women and Sex on Stage 1800–1930. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

                                                  DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691357.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Eltis traces the theatrical establishment of and challenges to norms of female sexuality on stage, drawing connections between theatrical presentations and contemporary novels. It is in this context that she deals extensively with The Convert and its relationship to the abortion discussed in Votes for Women!

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                                                  • Godfrey, Emelyne. Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

                                                    DOI: 10.1057/9781137284563Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Placing Robins alongside figures such as H. G. Wells, Mona Caird, Sarah Grand, and Richard Marsh in her consideration of the development of women’s self-defense (broadly conceived), Godfrey deals extensively with The Convert, in addition to a chapter that addresses Where are You Going to. . .? in the context of contemporary suffragist approaches to prostitute experience.

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                                                    • Green, Barbara. “From Visible Flâneuse to Spectacular Suffragette? The Prison, the Street, and the Sites of Suffrage.” Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 17.2 (Winter 1994–1995): 67–97.

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                                                      Through the lens of activist theatre, Green addresses the use of crowds, and the loosely defined figure of “the woman of the street,” to examine the militant Women’s Social and Political Union’s replacement of ordered pageantry with spectacles of “disruptive femininity.” Deals with The Convert alongside Lady Constance Lytton’s autobiographical tract, Prisons and Prisoners: Some Personal Experiences (1914).

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                                                      • Joseph, Maia. “Mass Appeal(s): Representations of Women’s Public Speech in Suffrage Literature.” Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue Canadienne d’Etudes Américaines 36.1 (2006): 67–91.

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                                                        Deals with The Convert alongside Laura J. Curtis’s Christine (1856) and Elizabeth Jordan’s The Sturdy Oak (1917) to navigate changing depictions of the relationship between the female public speaker and the crowd in narratives of suffragette politics. Joseph argues that the implied separation between these two entities, speaker and crowd, gradually breaks down. Looks particularly at the importance of outdoor setting in The Convert.

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                                                        • Mangum, Teresa. “The Many Lives of Victorian Fiction.” Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 55 (August 2009): 22 paragraphs.

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                                                          Within an experiment designed to examine readerly pleasure, this article deals with The Convert alongside analysis of a staged reading of Votes for Women! at the University of Iowa, offering observations about the pedagogical value of comparing the novel and the play in order to challenge a static and monolithic idea of Victorian fiction.

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                                                          • Moon, Jina. “The Female Subject on the Stage: Self-Fashioning and Performing Femininity in Elizabeth Robins’ The Convert.” Feminist Studies in English Literature 25.1 (2017): 105–130.

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                                                            Discusses how the idea of “acting” is transformed as melodramatic tropes of femininity are migrated from the play Votes for Women! to the novel The Convert as an effective strategy for covert attainment of feminist and suffragist aims.

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                                                            • Mulford, Wendy. “Socialist-Feminist Criticism: A Case Study: Suffrage and Literature, 1906–14.” In Re-reading English. Edited by Peter Widdowson, 179–192. London: Methuen, 1982.

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                                                              Mulford uses The Convert as a case study of how issues of class and gender are implicated in literary production, paying particular attention to the text as suffragist propaganda.

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                                                              • Parkins, Wendy. “Women on the Streets: Gender and Mobility in The Convert and Clash.” AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 108 (November 2007): 65–91.

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                                                                A version of this article later appears in her 2008 work Mobility and Modernity in Women’s Novels, 1850s–1930s: Women Moving Dangerously (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan). Deals with The Convert, alongside another novel, Clash (Ellen Wilkinson), paying particular attention to language and dress in relation to the protagonists’ movement from the drawing room, and old feminine values, to the streets, and women’s enfranchisement.

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                                                                • Squier, Susan M. “The Modern City and the Construction of Female Desire: Wells’s In the Days of the Comet and Robins’s The Convert.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 8.1 (Spring 1989): 63–75.

                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/463880Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  This article approaches The Convert for its depiction of women’s happiness as dependent on the city, and includes detail of Robins’s literary exchange with H. G. Wells, as well as with Henry James and William Archer, in the drafting of this novel.

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                                                                  • Winkiel, Laura. “Suffrage Burlesque: Modernist Performance in Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 50.3 (Fall 2004): 570–594.

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                                                                    Deals with the transferral of tropes of melodrama and burlesque from Votes for Women! to The Convert in order to augment the realist narrative, prefiguring, as Winkiel argues, the aims of high modernism. The article also focuses particularly on contemporary reception of the crowd scenes of both the play and novel in order to examine Robins’s engagement with cross-class concerns and anxieties.

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                                                                    George Mandeville’s Husband

                                                                    Her first published novel, George Mandeville’s Husband (1894) appeared under Robins’s pseudonym C. E. Raimond and centers on a mediocre woman novelist who meets with success. The novel “exposes a man’s fear of what happens when a woman succeeds and acquires power” (John 1995, cited under General Overviews and Biographies). Yet this was lost on Robins’s readers due to her pseudonym, interpreted as male and therefore undermining the parody of the novel, which was instead taken at face value as a criticism of female ambition.

                                                                    • Weber, Brenda R. “‘Were Not These Words Conceived in Her Mind?’: Gender/Sex and Metaphors of Maternity at the Fin de Siecle.” Feminist Studies 32.3 (Fall 2006): 547–572.

                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/20459105Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      Looking at George Mandeville’s Husband, Weber argues that Robins uses maternal characteristics in her protagonist-narrator in order to establish a text-as-child metaphor, which is then used to overturn the binding of female social roles to their reproductive capacity.

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                                                                      The Open Question

                                                                      This epic novel spanning several generations of one family reveals Robins’s keen interest in heredity. It features cousin marriage, tuberculosis, the inheritance of disease, and its prevention through eugenic euthanasia. The novel is set in the southern United States and centers on the fortunes of the Gano family, headed by a powerful matriarchal figure and situated in a grand mansion in genteel and gradual decline.

                                                                      • Jusová, Iveta. “Elizabeth Robins: Women’s Self-Determination vs. State Control.” In The New Woman and the Empire. By Iveta Jusová. Athens, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2005.

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                                                                        The book traces engagement with the Victorian colonial narrative in the work of Grand, Egerton, Robins, and Levy. This chapter examines Robins as a feminist actress and her professional striving for greater managerial control, placing the changing theatre industry within the wider context of social politics. Jusová then links this to Robins’s problematizing of evolutionary determinism and her engagement with colonialism in her novels, particularly The Open Question.

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                                                                        • Marcus, Jane. “Art and Anger.” Feminist Studies 4.1 (February 1978): 68–98.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/3177626Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Traces the use of anger in the work of Robins and Woolf, focusing on Ancilla’s Share alongside A Room of One’s Own, and drawing as well on The Convert and The Open Question (which ends with a joint suicide) and on Robins’s Ibsen roles, particularly her 1891 Hedda Gabler, as a critical frame for Woolf’s suicide.

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                                                                          Where are You Going to. . .?

                                                                          Published in 1913 both in Britain and America (in the latter under the title My Little Sister), this became a bestseller and Robins’s most successful novel. It is based on real testimony of cases of child abduction, then called “white slavery.” Reviewers drew attention to Robins’s choice of a well-to-do girl, rather than a poor working-class one, who becomes the victim of the white slave trade, which meant that the story could not be so easily dismissed. They also noted the novel’s “vivid intensity” (Life and Labor 1913).

                                                                          • Hite, Molly. “The Public Woman and the Modernist Turn: Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out and Elizabeth Robins’s My Little Sister.” Modernism/Modernity 17.3 (September 2010): 523–548.

                                                                            DOI: 10.1353/mod.2010.0011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                            While Hite draws parallels between Ancilla’s Share and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and between A Dark Lantern and Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, the focus of this article is My Little Sister and how Robin’s work anticipates questions of the education of young women and female sexual slavery in Woolf’s The Voyage Out.

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                                                                            • Johnson, Katie N. Sex for Sale: Six Progressive-Era Brothel Dramas. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2015.

                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt20p57f7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              An anthology of plays about sex workers and their conditions, challenges, and environments. Johnson divides the six plays into a section on “One-Act Prostitute Plays” and a section on “Broadway Brothel Plays,” of which Robins’s My Little Sister is one, alongside plays by Rachel Crothers and Shipman and Hymer.

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                                                                              • Thomas, Sue. “Crying ‘the Horror’ of Prostitution: Elizabeth Robins’s ‘Where are You Going to. . .?’ and the Moral Crusade of the Women’s Social and Political Union.” Women: A Cultural Review 16.2 (Summer 2005): 203–221.

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                                                                                Deals with both The Convert and Where are You Going to. . .? in order to trace new social functions to the novel in the late Edwardian and early Georgian periods, comparing Robins’s work on prostitution and female sexuality with that of John Masefield, with whom she had a sustained relationship. This article draws extensively on Robins’s diaries and also details the publication history of Where are You Going to. . .? in its argument.

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                                                                                “A Lucky Sixpence”

                                                                                The publication of Robins’s short story “A Lucky Sixpence” in the New Review in 1894 (anonymously) brought outcry over the depiction of a fallen woman, which was deemed too frank and detailed.

                                                                                • Thomas, Sue. “Elizabeth Robins and the New Review.” Victorian Periodicals Review 28.1 (Spring 1995): 63–66.

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                                                                                  Thomas traces the publication history of the story and the key editorial figures involved, including W. E. Henley, William Heinemann, Frank Harris, and Arthur Waugh.

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                                                                                  Published Plays

                                                                                  Robins wrote many plays but only a few were published and produced in her lifetime, the major ones being Alan’s Wife (written with Florence Bell, published and produced anonymously in 1893) and Votes for Women! (published and produced at the Court Theatre, 1907). Others such as The Silver Lotus, Discretion, My Little Sister, and The Mirkwater remain unpublished (although the latter is available online).

                                                                                  Alan’s Wife (1893; Written with Florence Bell)

                                                                                  This short play in three scenes was written secretly by Robins and Bell; they took Archer into their confidence and he provided a lengthy introduction to the anonymously published text of the play in 1893. Alan’s Wife is based on a short story by Swedish writer Elin Ameen called “Befriad” [Freed]. In the play, a young woman named Jean Creyke eagerly anticipates the birth of her baby, but is devastated when her husband is killed in an accident at the mill. When the baby is born with a disability of some sort (not specified or shown to the audience), she smothers it in its cot on stage as an act of euthanasia. In the final scene, she is brought before a magistrate to be sentenced for her crime, but is silent in the face of questioning, does not speak in her own defense, and only breaks her refusal to speak at the very end of the play, as she is led off to be imprisoned and, eventually, executed. The stage directions indicate what Jean is thinking, even though they instruct her to be silent, presenting a particular challenge to the actress interpreting the role. Jean’s elective female silence has received much attention in works such as Eltis and Shepherd-Barr 2016, Shepherd-Barr 2012, Shepherd-Barr 2015, and Wiley 1990.

                                                                                  • Andes, Anna. “Legitimacy and Infanticide: The Isolated Widows of Mrs. Keith’s Crime, Manchester Shirtmaker and Alan’s Wife.” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 12.1 (Spring 2016): 33 paragraphs.

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                                                                                    Looks at several plays, including Alan’s Wife, that depict or deal with infanticide in a way that recasts the baby-killing mothers as legitimate, and thus reframes the shame that is usually attendant on them.

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                                                                                    • Cameron, Rebecca S. “Ibsen and British Women’s Drama.” Ibsen Studies 4.1 (2004): 92–102.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/15021860410007807Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Robins is one of four female playwrights Cameron takes as exemplifying engagements with Ibsen’s social-realist techniques in order to further the public dialogue about the “new” British drama and its potential to change thinking about women’s roles. Argues that these playwrights offer an alternative to the usual narrative of the New Drama’s path from Ibsen and Archer through Grein’s Independent Theatre and Shaw.

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                                                                                      • Davis, Tracy C., and Ellen Donkin, ed. Women and Playwriting in Nineteenth Century Britain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                        The volume as a whole works to highlight and document prolific female playwrights in the 19th century, and to redress their relative absence from the critical and historical record when compared with male playwrights. Susan Carlson’s chapter considers New Woman plays and genre, and discusses, among other many plays, Robins’s collaboration with Lady Florence Bell in the writing of Alan’s Wife.

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                                                                                        • Eltis, Sos, and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. “What Was the New Drama?” In Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature: Late Victorian into Modern. Edited by Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn, and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, 133–149. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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                                                                                          Alan’s Wife is one of several modern dramas explored in this chapter to signal the breakdown of artificial divides between high and low, mainstream and coterie, and political and nonpolitical theatre, and the questioning of realism on stage that characterizes the “new drama” in both Britain and America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Robins’s and Bell’s play is set alongside work by Susan Glaspell, J. M. Barrie, G. B. Shaw, and John Galsworthy to illustrate the concept of “new drama.”

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                                                                                          • Kelly, Katherine E. “Alan’s Wife: Mother Love and Theatrical Sociability in London of the 1890s.” Modernism/Modernity 11.3 (2004): 539–560.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1353/mod.2004.0058Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Kelly takes Alan’s Wife as a point of departure for discussing coterie theatre production, such as informal readings in people’s houses or hired venues outside mainstream theatre networks, with a view to gaining deeper understanding of women’s active presence in the making of new theatre in London. Drawing on Philippe Ariès’s concept of sociability, she interrogates the divide between public and private spheres in women’s theatrical experience.

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                                                                                            • Newey, K. Women’s Theatre Writing in Victorian Britain. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1057/9780230554900Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              The chapter “The Playwright as a Woman of Letters” places Florence Bell alongside Elizabeth Robins, with a focus on Alan’s Wife, in order to reclaim Bell as more than subsidiary to Robins’s work. The rest of the book focuses on women’s work in playwriting for the commercial London theatre, engaging with theories of authorship and challenging gendered divisions of private and public.

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                                                                                              • Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten. “‘It was Ugly’: Maternal Instinct on Stage at the Fin de Siecle.” Women: A Cultural Review 23.2 (August 2012): 216–234.

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                                                                                                Challenges assumptions about Alan’s Wife as a “New Woman” drama by analyzing Jean Creyke’s refusal of motherhood in light of contemporary discourses on motherhood and maternal instinct in evolutionary thought (particularly that of Darwin) and in light of feminist writing on these topics.

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                                                                                                • Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten. Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

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                                                                                                  Situates Alan’s Wife in the context of biological discourse and the spectrum of evolutionary ideas that helped inform the play’s staging of infanticide, which Shepherd-Barr suggests may be a form of eugenic euthanasia, something that Robins both corresponded about with Archer and advocated in her novel The Open Question. The book also explores the growing discourse at the time around reproduction and how Alan’s Wife relates to several contemporary plays that likewise staged reproductive issues.

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                                                                                                  • Wiley, Catherine. “Staging Infanticide: The Refusal of Representation in Elizabeth Robins’s ‘Alan’s Wife.’” Theatre Journal 42.4 (1990): 432–446.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/3207720Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Wiley explores the question posed by staging Alan’s Wife for the first time: how do you represent the unrepresentable? While this question has proven to be the core issue for most subsequent scholars of the play as well, Wiley’s interpretation of Jean Creyke, the protagonist, as a New Woman has since come under increasing scrutiny.

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                                                                                                    Votes for Women! (1907)

                                                                                                    One of the most important dramas of the suffrage movement, this play was produced as part of the Court Theatre’s landmark Barker-Vedrenne seasons (1904–1907) and was acclaimed for its innovative staging, which has received particular attention from McDonald 1995. Harley Granville-Barker directed the play, and it enjoyed a three-week run after a series of eight matinée performances. The play centers on the feminist awakening of a young woman named Jean, engaged to a politician, Geoffrey Stonor, who turns out to have been the lover of Vida Levering, Jean’s mentor and a leading suffrage campaigner, years before the action of the play. Stonor had left Vida pregnant and, unable to cope on her own, she lost the fetus—whether by miscarriage or by abortion, the play deliberately leaves open. Vida and Stonor now meet again and in the final scene they confront their past, and Vida enlists Stonor’s aid for the suffrage cause. The play’s central scene is set at a suffrage rally in Trafalgar Square. This and the “fallen woman” dimension have been the main areas of critical interest in the play.

                                                                                                    • Eltis, Sos. “The Fallen Woman in Edwardian Feminist Drama: Suffrage, Sex, and the Single Girl.” English Literature in Transition 50.1 (2007): 27–49.

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                                                                                                      Considers the depiction of the fallen woman in Votes for Women! and argues that Robins was trying to locate a woman’s sexual “fall” within a wider network of social responsibility while also negotiating the resulting loss of female agency that is implicit within rigid Edwardian social structures. The play is set alongside others by Githa Sowerby, Constance Fletcher, Inez Bensusan, H. M. Harwood, Antonia Williams, and Jess Dorynne, all of which are seen in light of the ongoing discourse on prostitution.

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                                                                                                      • Gates, Joanne E. “Henry James’s Dictation Letter to Elizabeth Robins: ‘The Suffragette Movement Hot from the Oven.’” Henry James Review 31.3 (Fall 2010): 254–263.

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                                                                                                        Examines the impact of Henry James’s notes and correspondence with Robins on the development of her script for Votes for Women!

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                                                                                                        • Joannou, Maroula. “‘Hilda, Harnessed to a Purpose’: Elizabeth Robins, Ibsen, and the Vote.” Comparative Drama 44.2 (Summer 2010): 179–200.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1353/cdr.0.0110Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          Explores Robins’s playwriting, especially of Votes for Women!, in light of her suffrage activism and how it harnessed the public interest in Ibsen as well as feeding into the representation of working-class women in the play.

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                                                                                                          • Khaleel, Raja. “Introducing Feminist Political Drama: Elizabeth Robins’ Votes for Women.” Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice 5.2 (Winter 2012): 51–65.

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                                                                                                            Presents a detailed feminist reading of Votes for Women!, outlining changes in how Robins has been positioned within literary history.

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                                                                                                            • McDonald, Jan. “The Second Act Was Glorious.” Theatre History 15 (1995): 139–160.

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                                                                                                              Examines the script used by one of the performers in the crowd scene, Campbell Cargill, to shed light on how the remarkable feat of naturalistic staging of the Trafalgar Square suffrage rally scene was accomplished.

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                                                                                                              • Tilghman, Carolyn. “Staging Suffrage: Women, Politics, and the Edwardian Theater.” Comparative Drama 45.4 (Winter 2011): 339–360.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1353/cdr.2011.0031Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Shows through detailed analysis of political contexts as well as theatrical pieces such as Votes for Women! how suffragists deployed theatricality to their cause in a wide range of public displays. Spectacular suffrage processions as well as suffrage dramas show that performance placed in the service of protest was a popular and effective strategy in the hands of the Edwardian suffrage movement.

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                                                                                                                Suffrage Theatre and Feminist Activism

                                                                                                                Robins’s multiple contributions to the burgeoning suffrage theatre movement have been well documented, thanks to the pioneering scholarship on women and late Victorian into Edwardian theatre by Cockin, et al. 2007; Holledge 1981; and Stowell 1994. Woodworth 2006 examines depictions of working-class characters in suffrage drama, of particular relevance to Votes for Women!, while Park 1997 provides thorough background on Robins’s involvement with the Women Writers Suffrage League. Liggins 2018 reconsiders the militant suffragette in Votes for Women! and Way Stations.

                                                                                                                • Cockin, Katharine, Glenda Norquay, and Sowon S. Park, eds. Women’s Suffrage Literature. London: Routledge, 2007.

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                                                                                                                  Although her scholarship has primarily focused on Ellen Terry and Edith Craig, Cockin’s work has encompassed other key suffrage figures across the Edwardian period, including Robins. Here, she joins forces with Norquay and Park to provide a compendium of women’s suffrage literature not easily available elsewhere that illuminates Robins’s place in the movement.

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                                                                                                                  • Holledge, Julie. Innocent Flowers: Women in Edwardian Theatre. London: Virago Press, 1981.

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                                                                                                                    Deals with Robins within the context of the Actresses’ Franchise League and gives a wider survey of the hundreds of suffrage plays (many amateur and unpublished) written in this period. Holledge also addresses Robins as an actress through the lens of Hedda Gabler, in order to discuss the contemporary societal status of actresses and theatre activities.

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                                                                                                                    • Liggins, Emma. “The ‘Sordid Story’ of an Unwanted Child: Militancy, Motherhood and Abortion in Elizabeth Robins’ Votes for Women! and Way Stations.” Women’s Writing 25.3 (2018): 347–361.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1080/09699082.2018.1473019Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Liggins considers abortion and unwed motherhood in relation to the suffragette heroine. She illuminates Robins’s thoughts on direct action, drawing on her complex analyses of the tactics of the militant suffragettes in her writings on the movement. As Liggins points out, Robins’s writing in this period frequently drew attention to the ways in which the suffrage heroine’s militant gender politics often clashed with her maternal loss.”

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                                                                                                                      • Park, Sowon S. “The First Professional: The Women Writers’ Suffrage League.” Modern Language Quarterly 58.2 (June 1997): 185–200.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1215/00267929-58-2-185Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Details the birth, composition, and activity of the Women Writers Suffrage League until 1919, drawing particularly on Robins’s records of the organisation. Highlights the League’s challenge to modernist conceptions of authorship and literariness, instead foregrounding literature as political action and the consequent importance of anonymous women’s writing.

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                                                                                                                        • Stowell, Sheila. A Stage of Their Own. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                          Robins and other female playwrights are reclaimed as “lost” feminist playwrights, and their work, particularly for the suffrage movement, is set out in the broader context of an Edwardian cultural crisis centering around the issue of women’s roles in the family and in the workplace.

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                                                                                                                          • Woodworth, Christine. “Cleaning House: Working-Class Women and Suffrage Drama.” Theatre Annual: A Journal of Performance Studies 59 (Fall 2006): 19–38.

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                                                                                                                            Focusing on Votes for Women! and the work of three other dramatists, this article tracks the development of working-class women characters in suffrage drama from 1908 to 1918, within an overview of class stratification in the UK suffrage movement. Argues that these dramatic portrayals of working-class women further the political importance of marginalized characters and dramatic form as a driving force in this movement.

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                                                                                                                            Women and Theatre History

                                                                                                                            Much work has been done on the broader contexts for Robins’s involvement in theatre in her early career and her contributions to women’s roles both on stage and in the management of theatres, and her innovations as an actress and playwright. Cima 1980 (cited under Acting and Directing) and Cima 1993 document and analyze Robins’s performances in relation to theatre practice at the time. Particular attention has been paid to her development of the character of Hedda Gabler as the outstanding example of her pioneering acting techniques and championing of Ibsen’s focus on women’s predicaments in modern cultures; see Barstow 2001, Cima 1993, Farfan 2004, Shepherd-Barr 2017, Townsend 2000, and Townsend-Robinson 2003. Robins’s interactions with male playwrights and critics of the time, particularly Wilde and Shaw, have received attention from Gates 1994, Kaplan and Stowell 1994, Powell 1994, and Powell 1997. Her relationship to other female playwrights of the 1890s is explored in Powell 2004.

                                                                                                                            • Barstow, Susan Torrey. “‘Hedda Is All of Us’: Late-Victorian Women at the Matinee.” Victorian Studies 43.3 (Spring 2001): 387–411.

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                                                                                                                              Argues that early Ibsen performances, including Robins’s acclaimed portrayal of Hedda, kindled bourgeois female identification with Ibsen’s resistant female protagonists, and in the process fostered feminist collective bonds between individual female audience members.

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                                                                                                                              • Cima, Gay Gibson. Performing Women: Female Characters, Male Playwrights, and the Modern Stage. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                Deals with Robins’s 1890s performances in Ibsen plays, and her subsequent struggle to avoid having her identity fixed as an Ibsen actress. Focusing on Robins’s performances as Hedda in Hedda Gabler (1891) and Hilde in The Master Builder (1893), Cima outlines a contemporary drive from actresses toward action, rather than type, as the defining feature of female character on stage.

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                                                                                                                                • Farfan, Penny. Women, Modernism and Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                  Farfan’s consideration of modernist women performers places Robins’s work as an actress alongside that of Ellen Terry, as well as exploring the work of Virginia Woolf and Isadora Duncan. Farfan particularly focuses on Robins’s transformative portrayal of Hedda Gabler and the effect of this performance on her later work. Suffrage and feminism are addressed as separate though interlocking issues for women artists in Farfan’s analysis.

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                                                                                                                                  • Gates, Joanne E. “The Theatrical Politics of Elizabeth Robins and Bernard Shaw.” Shaw: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 14 (1994): 43–53.

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                                                                                                                                    Deals with Shaw’s involvement with the Independent Theatre and Robins’s early acting work, as well as Robins’s reactions to Shaw’s plays as recorded in her diary. Argues that Robins came to develop a pointed contrast between her own vision of feminist theatre and Shaw’s “use” of women’s issues as an opportunity for comic diffusion.

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                                                                                                                                    • Kaplan, Joel H., and Sheila Stowell. Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                      The work as a whole explores the dynamic between theatre, fashion, and society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Robins features extensively in discussion alongside Ibsen’s breakthrough in England in the two early chapters, as well as later in the volume alongside Arthur Wing Pinero. A chapter addressing Mrs Pat(rick Campbell) compares Robins’s work in early London productions of Ibsen. Votes for Women! is addressed directly within the last chapter.

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                                                                                                                                      • Powell, Kerry. “Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Robins, and the Theatre of the Future.” Modern Drama 37.1 (Spring 1994): 220–237.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.3138/md.37.1.220Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Challenges the critical orthodoxy that Robins’s friendship with Wilde was a universally beneficial mentorship, highlighting instead ways that Wilde’s well-meaning advice was often counterproductive. Argues for Robins’s later reversal of their mentorship dynamic as she became increasingly convinced of the need to write for a “Theatre of the Future.”

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                                                                                                                                        • Powell, Kerry. Women and Victorian Theatre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511582127Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Powell chronicles the ambivalent relationship between theatre and the Victorian women who found freedom, and faced resistance, as actresses, managers, playwrights. In a final chapter, Powell makes a case study of Robins and Wilde, examining the latter’s influence on the former and the way in which Robins carefully characterized and framed their relationship through memoir and the wider context of her work in theatre of the 1890s and beyond.

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                                                                                                                                          • Powell, Kerry. The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CCOL052179157XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Two chapters in this volume feature discussions of Robins. Mary Jean Corbett takes her as an example of the self-fashioning playwright and actress, with particular reference to Both Sides of the Curtain, Henry James’s reviews of Robins’s Ibsen performances, and her plays The Mirkwater and Votes for Women! Susan Carlson and Kerry Powell then situate Robins’s work alongside that of other female playwrights of the 1890s, such as Cecily Hamilton, Clotilde Graves, Blanche Crackanthorpe, Estelle Burney, Githa Sowerby, and Pearl Craigie.

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                                                                                                                                            • Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten E. “Against Interpretation?: Hedda and the Performing Self.” In Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler: Philosophical Perspectives. Edited by Kristin Gjesdal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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                                                                                                                                              Robins’s creation of the first English Hedda Gabler is seen in light of feminist philosophy, with Robins/Hedda self-creating and self-consciously performing gender not only through Ibsen’s text and its many cues but also through his stage directions, which call for a sustained metatheatricality that is enacted by the use of multiple stage spaces framed by doors and curtains. Robins’s performance took full advantage of these props (and elaborately beautiful costumes as well) in ways that extend and enhance the feminism of the play.

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                                                                                                                                              • Townsend, Joanna. “Elizabeth Robins: Hysteria, Politics and Performance.” In Women, Theatre and Performance: New Histories, New Historiographies. Edited by Maggie B. Gale and Viv Gardner, 102–120. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                Townsend discusses the discourse of the body in Hedda Gabler, Alan’s Wife, and Votes for Women! within a volume that seeks to challenge a traditional periodized methodology by juxtaposing subjects ranging across 300 years in order to shed light on the “hidden” histories of women in theatre.

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                                                                                                                                                • Townsend-Robinson, Joanna. “Expressing the Unspoken: Hysterical Performance as Radical Theatre.” Women’s Studies 32 (2003): 533–557.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/00497870390207103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  The article argues that hysteria and its performative discourse offer a rich potential in the space of the theatre that hinges on a productive tension between word and body. Hedda Gabler in Robins’s performance forms the focus of the latter half of the article.

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                                                                                                                                                  Acting and Directing

                                                                                                                                                  The majority of work done on Robins as an actor and director focuses on specific roles she played and/or plays with which she was involved, in particular her production of the first English Hedda Gabler in 1891 at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, as discussed for example in Diamond 1997, Gates 1985, Townsend 2000, Townsend-Robinson 2003, and Shepherd-Barr 2017 (last three cited under Women and Theatre History). Robins’s engagement with Ibsen more broadly is explored in Farfan 1996 and Shepherd-Barr 1997. Cima 1980 situates Robins as a theatre manager in London. Discussions of Robins’s earlier acting career can be found in Jamieson 1977 (cited under Memoirs) and Matlaw 1988.

                                                                                                                                                  • Cima, Gay Gibson. “Elizabeth Robins: The Genesis of an Independent Manageress.” Theatre Survey 21.2 (November 1980): 145–163.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S0040557400007766Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Situates Robins’s early London acting career, drawing extensively on theatre history and dwelling particularly on Robins’s 1891 Hedda Gabler, including difficulties surrounding its initial staging, and the additional Ibsen plays later produced by the Robins-Lea Joint Management, highlighting Robins as an experimental producer of the 1890s.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Cima, Gay Gibson. “Acting through the Barricades: A Search for Prototypes of Feminist Theatre.” Turn-of-the-Century Women 3.2 (Winter 1986): 42–46.

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                                                                                                                                                      Explores Robins’s development of new repertory and acting style, as well as her critique of the patriarchal actor-manager paradigm in order to establish a feminist principle of democratic, noncommercial management of an acting company. Addresses George Mandeville’s Husband and her 1890s unpublished typescript “Killed by Stage Management.”

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                                                                                                                                                      • Davis, Tracy C. Actresses as Working Women: Their Social Identity in Victorian Culture. London: Routledge, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                                        Deals especially with Robins’s work as an Ibsen actress, placing her within the working context of actors and theatre spaces in this period. Contains useful tables detailing the socioeconomic contexts for actors in England and Wales during this period.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Diamond, Elin. Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminist Theatre. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                          In the opening chapter, “Realism’s Hysteria,” Diamond takes Robins’s portrayal of Hedda Gabler in London in 1891 as an early example of how realism was being challenged on stage even as it was settling into the dominant mode of mainstream theatre. Diamond shows how Robins’s idiosyncratic uses of her voice, bearing, and gesture shaped a specifically feminist reinterpretation of realism.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Dolgin, Ellen Ecker. Shaw and the Actresses Franchise League: Staging Equality. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015.

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                                                                                                                                                            Discusses Robins’s development from proto-feminist Ibsenite actor, particular as Hedda Gabler, to her identification with and activism in the suffragette cause. Addresses Votes for Women! in detail in the fourth chapter alongside contemporary work, including George Bernard Shaw’s Court Theatre from 1904 to 1914.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Farfan, Penny. “From Hedda Gabler to Votes for Women: Elizabeth Robins’s Early Feminist Critique of Ibsen.” Theatre Journal 48.1 (March 1996): 59–78.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1353/tj.1996.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Tracks Robins’s developing challenge to Ibsen’s writing through her emerging feminism and involvement with the Actresses’ Suffrage League. Focuses particularly on Robins’s later repurposing of her iconic 1891 Hedda Gabler for suffrage campaigning. This article is a chapter in Farfan 2004 (cited under Women and Theatre History).

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                                                                                                                                                              • Gates, Joanne E. “Elizabeth Robins and the 1891 Production of Hedda Gabler.” Modern Drama 28.4 (December 1985): 611–619.

                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.3138/md.28.4.611Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                Compares Edmund Gosse’s contemporary translation of Hedda Gabler with the promptbooks used for Robins’s 1891 performance of the role, finding significant differences and highlighting the entanglement of the controversy of Gosse’s translation with the fate of the production. Gates goes on to show how this experience affected Robins’s work on later Ibsen plays such as The Master Builder, Little Eyolf, and John Gabriel Borkman and her championing of Ibsen in London.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Matlaw, Myron. “Robins Hits the Road: Trouping with O’Neill in the 1880s.” Theatre Survey 29.2 (November 1988): 175–192.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/S004055740000065XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Robins’s diaries and letters from her time as a young actress touring with the company of James and Ella O’Neill in 1882–1883 and 1885–1886 provide an extensive and unique personal account of her working life with these renowned actors and the theatrical life of 1880s America. This record shows the extent of the O’Neills’ involvement in Robins’s early acting life, including her earliest acting under the stage name Claire Raimond, her minor roles, as well as her later leading role as Mercedes in O’Neill’s popular melodrama The Count of Monte Cristo.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Robinson, Jo. “The Actress as Manager.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Actress. Edited by Maggie B. Gale and John Stokes, 157–172. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521846066.009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    Drawing on Robins’s own recollections, this chapter opens by looking specifically at the economic conditions of late Victorian theatre that drove Robins and Lea to create their own company, the Joint Management Theatre, in order to perform Ibsen’s plays. This is then used to frame further examples of female theatre managers.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Shepherd-Barr, Kirsten. Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890–1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                      In this comparative study of Ibsen’s reception in Britain and France as a key to understanding early modernist and avant-garde theatre, Shepherd-Barr looks closely at Robins’s contributions to Ibsen’s breakthrough in London through the formation of her own theatre company and the many roles she played in productions of his plays.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Anthologies

                                                                                                                                                                      Robins’s plays Alan’s Wife and Votes for Women! have been anthologized in collections of plays by women playwrights of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Chothia 1998 and Kelly 1996) and in Scullion 1996, which spans female playwrights from the whole of the 19th century.

                                                                                                                                                                      • Chothia, Jean, ed. The New Woman and Other Emancipated Woman Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                        This collection of plays includes an overview detailing the increased presence of the “emancipated woman” in theatre, and a biography placing Robins within the context of her period and other playwrights, including Granville Barker and George Bernard Shaw. It also explores the commercial and artistic success and influence of Votes for Women!, including the play’s effect on Gertrude Jennings, Cicely Hamilton, Christopher St John, and Joan Dugdale.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Kelly, Katherine. Modern Drama by Women 1880s–1930s: An International Anthology. London: Taylor and Francis, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                                          In a volume of international women’s plays including Votes for Women!, Kelly places Robins’s play alongside eleven contemporary international plays by women, some of which appear here for the first time in English. Votes for Women! is presented as a feminist critique of the well-made play. Kelly’s anthology includes an introduction to Robins and her work, and the project overall seeks both to bring plays written by women in this period to light and to expand the Anglophone focus that dominates studies of women’s contributions to “new drama”.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Scullion, Adrienne. Female Playwrights of the Nineteenth Century. London: J. M. Dent, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Alan’s Wife is included in this selection of plays by women spanning the whole of the 19th century and including Joanna Baillie, Marie-Therese Kemble, Anna Cora Mowatt, and Mrs Henry Wood in addition to Robins.

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