Robins, in the opinion of many, takes the most prominent place. She has written several books of great ability, and one, " The
" Magnetic North," at least, of genius.
She has, moreover, won the unique reputation of attaining success as an artist in the two great mediums of expression, literature and the stage. In her own biographical notice she is accustomed to accentuate the fact that she is principally known as an interpreter of Ibsen's characters, but it is safe to say that comparatively few recall her name as an actress. She is known as a novelist, who has pictured for the public certain phases of life, here and abroad, with a skill which it would be difficult to better.
Like Goldsmith, she has touched nothing which she has not adorned, if we except her book "The Convert," which was written with the avowed purpose of propagating the Women's Suffrage cause, and, like so much propaganda literature, cannot be estimated by the ordinary standards of criticism.
The only parallel to Miss Elizabeth Robins' career - and that not exact - is to be found in the life of George du Maurier, who, after having attained a foremost position as an artist, took to writing when his eyesight began to fail, and surprised the world with that series of novels which commenced with "Trilby."
Born at Louisville, Kentucky, Miss Robins took to the stage just about the time when the modern serious drama was attempting to make its footing secure. Ibsen, who in the country of his birth had already won the great reputation which is now recognised everywhere, was practically unknown in England and America, and what was known of him was not approved. Critics who now hail him as master some twenty odd years ago treated him with contempt. Realism had made no progress among the English speaking peoples. It was at this juncture that Miss Elizabeth Robins came out as an interpreter of Ibsen's women. Her success was considerable, and in London she attained a great reputation.
From 1899, when " The Doll's House "- the first of the great Norwegian dramatist plays to be presented in England - was produced, to 1893, when " The Master Builder," the most stormily criticised of them all, was staged, Miss Elizabeth Robins played her part behind the footlights. Then suddenly, though the career before her gave every promise of extraordinary success, she practically gave up the stage.
There is a story of how Pinero, looking round for somebody to play the title-role in
"The Second Mrs. Tanqueray," decided that the charming exponent of Ibsen was the very actress for the part. He approached her on the subject, to be met with the reply that she did not think herself suited to play such a character. Realising her own limitations, she advised Mr. Pinero to give the part to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who she suggested was her superior as an actress. It was with this piece of high-minded self-sacrifice that Miss Elizabeth Robins brought her more prominent stage career to an end. It is true that she continued now and again her exposition of Ibsen, but she no longer figured as before in the public eye.
"C. E. Raimond"
Shortly afterwards, in 1894, a book was published, entitled " George Mandeville's Husband." The author's name was given as C. E. Raimond. It was clearly a first book, immature in many respects, but showing great promise, and as such it was acclaimed by the critics. In the following two years, " Milly's Story " and " Below the Salt " appeared from the same pen.
Who C. E. Raimond was nobody knew, but it was generally accepted that the author was a man. The secret was well kept, and it was not until 1898 that the real identity of the writer was made known. It was a happy circumstance that Miss Robins dropped her pseudonym and appended her own name to the first of her books which really represented the full fruits of her genius. This was " The Open Question " - a remarkable novel in every way, dealing among other things with the great question whether a human being is entitled to snatch at happiness, and then to take his or her life if the result of that happiness is certain to prove dangerous to others.
The book met with a chorus of praise, and Miss Robins' position as an authoress was henceforward assured. It was in this novel that she described much of her early life, giving a delightful account of her stately and aristocratic forebears in Kentucky; for by birth she was a " Blue Grass Country Girl," as the American phrase has it, and should she have cared to do so, could have of right belonged to that exclusive feminine order of American chivalry - the Colonial Dames.
For six years no other novel appeared from her pen. During that time she accumulated material for her greatest work, and undertook a series of adventures which probably no woman has ever voluntarily experienced before. Somewhere about this time, a Canadian miner, called Robert Henderson, had made a great gold find at Quartz Creek, on the Yukon River, in the North-west Territory. This led to the opening up of the Klondyke Goldfields, and to one of the most unparalleled " rushes " that have been known in modern times. From every part of England and America men swarmed in hundreds and thousands towards the promised land. They thought nothing of the difficulties and privations with which they were faced as long as they might reach the spot of earth where wealth awaited them for the taking.
It was into the midst of this gold-maddened mob that Miss Robins plunged, and, delicately nurtured though she was, endured all the trials and tribulations of that wild journey to the Arctic. It was probably one of the most daring and courageous adventures ever undertaken by a woman. She came safely through it, however, and returned with her mind stored full of rich experiences. What she did, and what she endured, were set out in her novel, " The Magnetic North," which was published in 1904.
The effect of the book was extraordinary. That a serious work of fiction dealing with the life of the Klondyke should be written at all was in itself looked upon as remarkable, but that it had been written by 1a, woman amazed everybody. As one eminent critic wrote : " No one could have foreseen that Miss Robins would journey to the Klondyke ; no one will ever understand how a woman can have survived those hardships with which the book is full."
Votes for Women
In the following year a further novel appeared, entitled " A Dark Lantern." Then for a time Miss Robins abandoned her serious literary work to take part in the campaign for Women's Suffrage. In 1907 was published her propagandist novel " The Convert," and in the same year another novel, entitled " Under the Southern Cross." Then, in 1908, she proved to the world that " The Magnetic North " still had its attraction for her imagination. In that year there appeared her book, entitled " Come and Find Me," dealing with the glamour that that modern Holy Grail, the North Pole, has for a certain type of man. Its writing was as brilliant as ever, and some of the pictures it presented were as vivid as those contained in " The Magnetic North." One of the characters in the book actually did discover the North Pole, and it is a curious fact that Miss Robins should have anticipated Peary's great achievement by only a few months.
Miss Robins has written one play, entitled "Votes for Women," which was acted at the Court Theatre under the Vedrenne-barker regime. This has been her only literary contribution to the stage, of which she was formerly a shining light, but she has the credit of being the friend who persuaded Mr. W. T. Stead to pay his first visit to a theatre, to witness Pinero's " Wife Without a Smile," in 1904. In appearance, Miss Robins is slight and dark, and her manner is exceedingly quiet and reserved. Though she was born in America, and still retains a home there, at Hernando County, Honda, as well as in England, there is not a trace of American accent in her voice.