Theatres and Friendships: the Spheres and Strategies of Elizabeth Robins
Hill, Leslie Anne
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I am submitting my dissertation for publication.
Victorian women used strategies that allowed them to not only work as actresses but also as directors, producers, translators, and playwrights, thus transforming theatre at the cusp of the New Drama. Female friendships were particularly integral to these strategies as women employed secretiveness and anonymity, charm and shrewdness, networking and collaborating in small and large groups to meet their creative and professional goals. Through these means of sociability women enlarged their spheres of influence beyond the stage. Elizabeth Robins is a superb example of these strategies, particularly when theatrical realism was her primary focus. Though she also collaborated well with men, William Archer and Henry James among them, it was Robins’s female friends who helped her to establish a London career. This project shows how Robins and her women friends contributed to the New Drama in dynamic, critical, and often-secret ways. Marion Lea and Robins finagled the rights to Hedda Gabler in 1891. Lea and Florence Bell helped Robins to translate plays for production and to develop new acting techniques suited to realism. After Lea left England, Robins and Bell joined Grein’s Independent Theatre Society to present their anonymously written protest play Alan’s Wife. These efforts illustrate the adaptive functions of female friendships. Through closer examination of their relationships, particularly the one Robins and Bell called a sisterhood, we see the nurturing functions of female friendships. This project explains some of the reasons why, despite being famous in their day, these women disappeared from history. It was not just because of male control of the theatre, but was also a product of their own desires to protect themselves. Secrecy had served them well in the 1890s, but their fame faded as even friends forgot them. Yet, since female socialization taught them to be group-focused, these women’s stories are highly pertinent to the history of the theatre, an art form that is collaborative by its nature. Through study of their work and their relationships, we can fill some gaps in theatre history, women’s history, and nineteenth-century history, adding resonance to their voices that may carry to coming generations.
PhD in English