The Convert (1907)

by Elizabeth Robins

Elizabeth Robins was an American who spent much of her life in Britain as an actress and crusader for women’s rights. Her 1907 book The Convert was one of a number of novels about “conversion” to the cause of women’s suffrage in Britain.

The action of The Convert moves from the posh drawing rooms where Vida Levering’s upper-crust set gathers to the raucous open-air rallies where brave suffragists deliver impassioned speeches and face the jeers of crude men. The book is blatantly polemical—a good many pages are given over to these speeches, whose insights about gender stereotyping are still eerily relevant. Vida becomes intrigued and then won over by these meetings and the feminists who conduct them. She becomes aware of the sisterhood of women that transcends class.

Character development takes a back seat to the novel’s didactic purpose, but when Vida’s mysterious determination to never marry is finally explained at the end, disclosure leads to a conclusion that furthers the cause of women.

Robins used the same story and characters for the play Votes for Women, which opened in 1907 at the Court Theatre in London. It was the first of many suffrage plays of the era.

The voting franchise was extended in 1918 to British women over age 30 who met property qualifications. In 1928 it was given to all British women over age 21.


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