"Hilda, Harnessed to a Purpose": Elizabeth Robins, Ibsen, and the Vote


Maroula Joannou


This essay discusses the achievements of Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952 in relation to the English stage. Although Robins’s reputation rests largely on her pioneering performances of Ibsen, to whom she introduced English audiences when she moved to England from the United States in 1889, she was a woman of considerable talents: a successful novelist, a playwright, a campaigning feminist and a suffragette.

“‘Hilda, Harnessed to a Purpose’: Elizabeth Robins and the English Theatre” traces Robins’s attempts to establish a different, non-commercial theatre in the West-End of London from her path-breaking production of Hedda Gabler in 1891, staged jointly with a young American actor, Marion Lea, to her suffrage play, Votes for Women! performed at the apex of the British women suffrage campaigns in 1907. Some account is offered of Robins’s work on behalf of women in the acting profession and of the part she played in the Women Writers’ Suffrage League as well as in the Actresses’ Suffrage League. Her professional friendships with Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw are discussed. The piece finishes with detailed discussion of her play which has previously been situated in the cultural, theatrical and political context of Edwardian Britain. Using archive material and Robins’s own autobiographical and other writings, l concentrate on its reception, complicated production history, engagement with issues of class privilege, and its representations of working-class women.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.