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by Elizabeth Robins
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From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister
Although Elizabeth Robins was American by birth, she spent a good portion of her life in England as an actress and feminist activist. The Convert is about the British Suffrage movement, which the author knew well. Part witty and scathing commentary on the upper classes, part political rhetoric quoted directly from open-air meetings, and part muck-raking realism, The Convert moves back and forth between the personal and the political until the two can no longer be distinguished. The Convert uses as its frame the political "conversion" of Vida Levering, a beautiful, upper middle-class woman. We follow Vida's growing discontent with "country weekend" society and her increasing awareness of the common lot of women. Forthright and direct, Elizabeth Robins discusses issues that must have been shocking in 1907: unwed motherhood, the effects of the inequality of women, and the essential disrespect that underlies chivalry. Reminiscent of Jane Austen and foreshadowing the work of Virginia Woolf, The Convert is a fascinating novel. It provides us with a sense of history and a feeling of pride in what women could and did accomplish. It is also disturbing because far too many of the issues are still relevant. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.
Â Â Â This novel, first published in 1907, brings to life Robin's experience and that of her colleagues, Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, in the story of VidaÂ Levering, an upper-class British woman "converted" to the working-class suffrage movement. In a suspenseful plot, Robins contrasts the witty dialogue of elegant drawing rooms with the rough-and-tumble outdoor meetings of Trafalgar Square, recreating them almost word for word from actual accounts. Ultimately, Vida begins to make her own first speeches and out of the tragic events of her past devises a means of effecting women's political freedom. Jane Marcus puts this "funny, moving, and beautifully structured novel" in a class with Virginia Woolf's Night and Day.
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