Robinson, Jane 1959-
ROBINSON, Jane 1959-
Born 1959, in Edinburgh, Scotland; married; children: two sons. Education: Graduated from Somerville College, Oxford.
Writer. Formerly part owner of an antiquarian bookshop specializing in travel.
(Compiler) Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994, revised, 2001.
Angels of Albion: Women of the Indian Mutiny, Penguin (London, England), 1996.
(Compiler) Parrot Pie for Breakfast: An Anthology of Women Pioneers, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Women out of Bounds: The Lives and Work of History's Career Women, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2003.
While working in an antiquarian book-shop specializing in travel, Jane Robinson came to realize that the genre of women's travel writing was sorely neglected. She hoped to remedy this situation by creating the first bibliography of such writers, which resulted in Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers. She has since left bookselling to write and edit books that present the extraordinary lives of women, including travelers, emigrants, and career women. The books comprise anthologies, literary history, and social history.
In Wayward Women, Robinson identifies nearly 400 women who wrote about their remarkable travel experiences in English. She originally hoped to create a comprehensive list, but was distracted by the lure of reading her discoveries. She therefore chose to limit the number of writers and annotated entries with biographical information. Robinson's aim was to expand on the stereotypical image of the straight-laced Victorian lady trotting briskly around the globe. In the New York Times Book Review, Alida Becker commented that readers gain "a less comprehensive but far more engaging work, an annotated ramble." Book World's David Streitfeld suspected that most of the titles, including "To Lake Tanganyika in a Bath Chair," would be unfamiliar to a general audience and was intrigued by the "engagingly annotated" material. In the American Reference Books Annual, Renee J. LaPerriere called Wayward Women a "well-written and entertaining volume" while also judging that the "groupings seem arbitrary in some cases." Caroline Moorehead wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that it is "an absorbing book, which combines painstaking bibliographical detail with delightful and informative potted lives."
Some of the writers listed in Wayward Women appear in Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers, Robinson's collection of English travel writing by women who have gone seemingly everywhere. A piece from 1817 shows Charlotte Eaton examining the battlegrounds of Waterloo not long after the fighting ended, while in 1950 Freya Stark writes about climbing the Alps. Some of the writers in the anthology are well known, such as Florence Nightingale, Karen Blixen, Mary Shelley, and Frances Trollope. In an article for Belles Lettres, M. D. Allen recommended the work as "an excellent companion to Robinson's biographical Wayward Women. "He enjoyed the book despite the perception that Robinson was "celebrating individuality and individual achievement with scant regard to discursive complexities and ambiguities, and at the risk of perpetuating stereotypes." In Booklist, Mary Ellen Sullivan called the writings "inherently interesting" but considered the presentation somewhat superficial. Sullivan admired the writings and remarked that "the richness of their collective insight powerfully contrasts with the male voices that have long predominated in travel writing."
The collected writings in Parrot Pie for Breakfast: An Anthology of Women Pioneers detail the experiences of 100 women emigrants. Ranging from the early seventeenth century to the early twentieth century and including experiences around the globe, Robinson has chosen writers who were variously motivated by duty, material advancement, the hope of better lives, and the thirst for adventure. The title comes from a pioneer woman who explained how she had to first catch the parrot and build a hearth in order to make such a meal. Reviewers enjoyed the collection, including Library Journal writer Bonnie Collier, who advised that the accounts are "presented with little regard for time or place" and added that the book was "interesting in a casual way." In School Library Journal, Frances Reiher liked the "wise selections" as well as Robinson's "witty asides and insights, rarely judgmental but highlighting attitudes of class and cultural prejudice." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the collection is "fascinating" with its "affecting glimpses of pluck and fortitude."
Robinson tells the largely unfamiliar stories of women who dared do things seen fit only for men in Women out of Bounds: The Lives and Work of History's Career Women. She familiarizes readers with unconventional women who were pirates, prospectors, spies, soldiers, healers, entrepreneurs, in a social history covering twenty-five centuries. A Kirkus Reviews writer got the impression that the author "seems to take most pleasure in women who made their independent livelihoods in more questionable careers" than say blacksmiths or undertakers. The selection process was seen as being more connected to Robinson's "serendipitous encounters in the library stacks than … their significant places in time and history." Booklist's Margaret Flanagan considered the book to be a "delightful slice of women's history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Reference Books Annual, Volume 22, Renee J. LaPerriere, review of Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers, p. 181.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1995, M. D. Allen, review of Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers, p. 37.
Booklist, Margaret Flanagan, review of Women out of Bounds: The Lives and Work of History's Career Women, p. 817.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2002, review of Women out of Bounds, p. 1756.
Library Journal, April 1, 2000, Bonnie Collier, review of Parrot Pie for Breakfast: An Anthology of Women Pioneers, p. 116.
New York Times Book Review, January 27, 1991, Alida Becker, "Far from the Madding Hearth," p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, April 24, 2000, review of Parrot Pie for Breakfast, p. 80.
School Library Journal, November, 2000, Frances Reiher, review of Parrot Pie for Breakfast, p. 186.
Spectator, October 5, 1996, review of Angels of Albion: Women of the Indian Mutiny, pp. 54-55.
Times Literary Supplement, July, 13, 1990, Caroline Moorehead, review of Wayward Women, p. 745.
Washington Post Book World, April, 22, 1990, David Streitfeld, review of Wayward Women, p. 19.*