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Robins, Elizabeth

ROBINS, Elizabeth

Born 1862, Louisville, Kentucky; died 1952, Sussex, England Also wrote under: C. E. Raimond

Daughter of Charles E. Robins; married George R. Parks,1881 (died)

Elizabeth Robins was one of eight children of a prosperous banker. She spent her early childhood in Staten Island, New York, but received formal education at the exclusive Putnam Seminary for Young Ladies in Zanesville, Ohio. At the age of sixteen, Robins left school for the stage. She began acting under an assumed name in the Boston Museum Company and then went on tour. Married briefly to an actor, Robins was widowed when he met a violent death. She continued to act and developed an early and comprehensive interest in Ibsen's work.

Robins visited Norway and, on her return, stopped in England and was soon on good terms with London producers, playing leading roles. She became a close friend of Henry James and later published their lengthy correspondence in Theatre and Friendship (1930). She created most of the Ibsen heroines in London productions of his plays during the 1890s; these were generally poorly received because of the antipathy to Ibsen's subjects, but Robins gained acclaim.

An ardent suffragist, Robins was deeply involved in the early women's rights movement, and a number of her books reflect this interest. Woman's Secret (1905) is an illuminating and thoughtful historical examination of woman's traditional place in Western culture. Votes for Women (1906), which gave English suffragists their slogan, is one of the few plays to deal directly with the question in an overt attempt to enlighten the public at large, as is Robins' novel, The Convert (1907). Way Stations (1913) is one of clearest and most concise histories of the women's rights movement of that time.

In the early 1900s, Robins visited the Western U.S. and the Alaskan Klondike during the gold rush, and the result was two novels set in that area. Magnetic North (1904) is perhaps the best known of all Robins' works, but Come and Find Me (1908) is equally well written.

Robins lived in England for the rest of her life, although she made frequent visits to the U.S. After 1920 she made her home in Henfield, Sussex, where she was considered the most important literary figure of the area. Most of her novels are about love and marriage; but unlike many of her contemporaries, Robins is not sentimental about these subjects. She is primarily concerned with the relationships between men and women, and breaks away from the conventional view of romantic love and idyllic marriage as the only possible state. Indeed, she demonstrates the possibility of genuine friendship between the sexes.

Robins' writing is intelligent and lucid, her style clear and uncomplicated. Her descriptions are precisely visualized, her dialogue rings true, and she builds her characters, especially the women, fully. Her plots sometimes seem laborious and rambling when set beside a modern novel; but compared to contemporary novels, they are models of restraint.

Perhaps because Robins spent so much of her life in England and published the majority of her work there, she has not been as well known in her native country. Nevertheless, Robins' stories bear a distinctively American stamp in the independence of her women and in the emphasis on their innate dignity and individuality.

Other Works:

George Mandeville's Husband (1894). The New Moon (1895). The Fatal Gift of Beauty, and Other Stories (1896). The Open Question (1899). Below the Salt (1900). The Dark Lantern (1905). Under the Southern Cross (1907). Ibsen and the Actress (1908). The Mills of the Gods (1908). The Florentine Frame (1909). Under His Roof (1910). Why? (1912). My Little Sister (1913). The Messenger (1919). Time Is Whispering (1923). The Secret That Was Kept (1926). Both Sides the Curtain (1940).

Bibliography:

Reference works:

Ohio Authors and Their Books (1962). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). TCA.

Other references:

Athenaeum (1887, 1888, 1909). Atlantic (1895, 1906). Bookman (1904, 1907, 1908, 1909). Nation (1899, 1905, 1908). North American Review (1910). SR (1894, 1895, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909).

—HELENE KOON

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