Alan's Wife

Alan's Wife at The Elizabeth Robins Web


[now credited to Elizabeth Robins and Florence Bell]

to the PDF Play text at JSU's Elizabeth Robins Web


Robins, Elizabeth, and Florence Bell. Alan's Wife. A play in three scenes based on a story by Elin Ameen. Originally published anonymously. London: Henry and Co., 1893. Ed. Joanne E. Gates. Available as PDF images from The Elizabeth Robins Web at Jacksonville State University.  Pagination of play text in the header conforms to that of orignial printing. [Date of access]

Also note: Duplicating or printing multiple copies for class or performance use requires permission of the editor, Re-styling, re-duplication by electronic means, mailing of the file or the link is forbidden. Permission to add the link to a remote site's list of links is allowed, providing that authors Elizabeth Robins and Florence Bell and editor Joanne E. Gates receive credit.

This internet edition does not include the editor's preface by J. T. Grein (v-viii) and the introduction by William Archer (ix-lii)

Proofreading by Donna Phillips Coleman, in partial fulfillment of EH 572, Fall 2003.

Alternate source the facsimile of the original, inclusive of Archer's Introduction and appendix, has now become available at Internet Archive:

We were unaware of the anthologized edition when our script was prepared. The play was included in New Women Plays. Edited by Linda Fitzsimmons and Viv Gardner. Heinemann Educational Books (Methuen), 1991, pp 3-25. ISBN, 9780413642004.

For critical commentary on the play, see:

Gates, Joanne E. Elizabeth Robins 1862-1952: Actress, Novelist, Feminist. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1994, pp 65-6 [recipient of the U of A Press's Elizabeth Agee Prize].

Marcus, Jane. "Miss Elizabeth's First Play: Alan's Wife." Chapter V of her dissertation, "Elizabeth Robins (A Biographical and Critical Study)." Northwestern University, 1973, pp. 172-221.

Kelly, Katherine E. "Alan's Wife: Mother Love and Theatrical Sociability in London of the 1890s." Modernism/Modernity, vol. 11, no. 3, 2004, pp. 539-560. ProQuest.

Diamond, Elin. "Realism and Hysteria: Toward a Feminist Mimesis," in Discourse (Fall-Winter 1990-91), Vol. 13, No. 1, A Special Issue on the Emotions, pp. 59-92. Wayne State U P, JSTOR,

Wiley, Catherine. "Staging Infanticide: The Refusal of Representation in Elizabeth Robins's 'Alan's Wife'." Theatre Journal 42. 4: Disciplines of Theater: Fin De Siècle Studies (Dec.1990), pp. 432-446. Johns Hopkins, JSTOR,

Alan's Wife was published anonymously with William Archer writing an overlong introduction that either disguised the adaptors or passed on the mis-information he had from Robins. Later attributions credit Bell and Robins. Archer was so offended by A. B. Walkley's review that he spends much of the introduction disproving the charges that the production tended towards sensationalism in revealing a bloody corpse at the end of the first scene and the smothered child at the end of the second. Even as he claims, with evidence, that Walker hallucinated the visual evidence from his over emotional response, he argues for a superior form of tragedy that stresses realism.

Later analyses by Wiley, Diamond, and Kelly recenter the debate about the play around feminist issues.

It should be noted that Diamond misrepresents the chronology of Robins publishing anonymous and pseudonymous fiction. Before this play she had only published one essay about touring in America, under her own name, "Across America." Her first two stories were published without an author ascribed, and later than this play (See "A Lucky Sixpence," Dedicated to John Huntley") and her pseudonym "C. E. Raimond," not C. Raimond, was first attached to George Mandeville's Husband, all 1894. Archer's preface, available in the openlibrary edition, should be consulted to clarify just how he (mis)represented the way Robins presented the "anonymous" adaptation to him.

Wiley in her footnotes cites two sources that indicate that Bell and Robins' authorship was not revealed for thirty years. These are first identified in Marcus. In Robins' Theatre and Friendship (1932), she hints that James knew something but that it was  important to keep him in the dark. She also details a banquet for J.T. Grein at which Lady Bell rose to thank Grein for giving the anonymous play a hearing and to announce that 'We wrote "Alan's Wife"' (Theatre and Friendship 119-10).

Neither Wiley's nor Diamond's study, in my opinion, gets at the sustained dialogue in the text, scene three, that represents Jean's voluntary mute responses. Diamond asks, "Any competent performer can mime a "vacant" stare, but how does one represent somatically a declarative sentence ("I can tell him nothing")? (p. 86). Wiley, whose study cites Diamond's as they both reference theories of Kristeva, characterizes the sustained silences that the text scripts, but concludes that "during her silence the mirror of naturalism cracks and Robins as Jean reverts back to Robins as performer" (p. 445). In fact, the existence of the contemporaneous text shows that Robins and Bell anticipate the modernist technique that is generally attributed to Eugene O'Neill in Strange Interlude. One can imagine a revival in which an intimate, whispered, voiceover clarifies the character's unspoken but felt remarks.

Kelly also makes the connection to Strange Interlude. Her analysis might be accessed first for its comprehensive account. Marcus, as she does throughout her analysis of Robins' connection to Ibsen, is keen to point out Wagnerian parallels and debate the action as theatrically tragic. Her inventive fantasy the end of the chapter hints at (with shrewd ironies) the feminist wave about to reclaim Robins and this text. As I pointed out in my interview for the ERDiary Podcast, Episode One, I am not certain that such rebellious aims were part of the motives to adapt and stage the story. As Robins testifies in "Ibsen and the Actress," the excitement for "such glorious actable stuff" was a thrill that did not depend upon political underpinnings.

Students of this play may wish to consult "Befriad" in the original Swedish. (This may not be the version Robins read in a German translation.) It can be found as the third story in Elin Améen's Lifsmål, pp. 37-49. Biographies of Ameen mention that she translated Alan's Wife back to Swedish where it was published in 1895 as En Moder and eventually performed.