London: Methuen, 1907.
London: Methuen, 1907. First UK edition. Original publisher's cloth binding with gilt to spine and front board. Measuring 185 x 125mm and collating complete including publisher's catalogue to rear: , 359, [1, blank], 40. Sunning and staining to spine, with some rippling to rear board; hinges starting but holding well. Early ownership inscription of Halstow Rd. School to front endpaper; contemporary ownership signature of D. Davis to rear endpaper. Foxing to fore-edge of closed textblock and scattered throughout. A scarce feminist novel, OCLC reports 13 copies with U.S. libraries; excepting the present copy, this edition has only appeared once at auction (1978).
The Convert, written by American actress, novelist, and suffragist Elizabeth Robins, is a testament to the trans-Atlantic sisterhood of the period's women's rights activists. Based on her "hugely successful play Votes for Women!, which advocated militancy as the only means of achieving female suffrage...many of the scenes are taken directly from actual suffrage meetings, including verbatim quotes from hostile men and rousing speeches by suffragettes who stood up for their principles, at great personal risk" (Godfrey). A correspondent of Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, Robins donated a portion of proceeds to their militant WSPU as well as to Millicent Fawcett's more diplomatic NUWSS. Centering its plot on Vida Levering, a society beauty who is converted to activism by working class women around her, the novel uses melodrama in order to critique it. Vida's early weakness in response to the changing world is not altered by the love of a man, but by a no-nonsense and driven sisterhood. And the deep secret of her life -- an early, unmarried pregnancy and abortion -- does not function as the Victorian plot-twist of her undoing; rather, it is the leverage she uses "to gain the political support of her ex-lover, the rising Tory politician Geoffrey Stonor" (Godfrey). The Convert ultimately functions both as a call to suffrage activism as well as to a broader effort "to create new roles for women outside those of wives and sweethearts...Focusing on the taboo issues of abortion and unmarried motherhood," Robins developed a new narrative of the "fallen woman," one that considers "how childlessness is both necessary and problematic for a suffrage heroine" (Liggins). (Item #5801)