Additional contemporary accounts of The Open Question
Additional contemporary accounts of The Open Question
Exceplt for the Academy notice, listed below, all material in this file is transcribed from clippings in The Open Question Scrapbook at the Elizabeth Robins Collection, NYU (Series 11). The scrapbook also contains various other clippings not transcribed here and personal correspondence that is summarized by editorial brackets.
Disclosure of Elizabeth Robins's pseudonym after the first publication of The Open Question.
The Daily Chronicle of December 2, 1898:
It is now stated positively in an American journal that "C. E. Raimond" is Miss Elizabeth Robins, the lady who has played Ibsen roles with so much distinction. We congratulate Miss Robins [ . . . ]
The Daily Chronicle of December 3, 1898:
[The editors are] expecting from Heinemann another manifesto about the book, giving the writer's name.
Meanwhile, we confess we are somewhat curious to know whether she has retired to a convent or is dining with her publisher--one or the other being the course usually adopted by Mr. Heinemann's literary ladies nowadays.
[Correspondence from Stella Campbell on stationery of the Lyceum Theatre and E. R.'s penciled reply on the back indicates that Cambpell was the source for the disclosure.]
[Still maintaining her pen name, Robins wrote a letter to the paper as her reply to The Daily Chronicle's tactic of disclosing her identity.]
The Daily Chronicle of December 16, 1898, page 3, right column.
THE OPEN QUESTION
The Editor of the Daily Chronicle.
Sir, --As it was "The Daily Chronicle" which, after saying "we pluck at no one's mask," proceeded to make public the identity of "C. E. Raimond," you will perhaps allow me to point out the reasons which made me cling so long and so earnestly to the pseudonymity you destroyed. No doubt unintentionally, you did me a grave injury; and as the principle involved possesses an importance I am far from attributing to my own individual case, I venture to call your attention to it.
Every one who has thought about criticism must regret the inevitable tendency of the author's personality to intrude itself between the critic and the work criticised, inducing all manner of preposessions, favorable, or the reverse, and warping his vision of the thing itself. This drawback is inseparable from all the work in the artistic field, and most workers simply grin and bear it. Why, then, should not I have done likewise? For the plain reason that my name was already associated with another art than that of fiction, than that an unconquerable instinct bade me keep the two forms of activity apart. Is it so very incomprehensible that one should desire to be judge simply as a novelist and simply as an actress, not as a novelist who acts or an actress who writes novels.
This motive, I think, would weigh with any one who essayed two different arts; but in my own case there was a special reason for keeping the two asunder. It had been my inestimable good fortune to act several characters in the plays of Henrik Ibsen. For the thrilling poetry of these dramas I have the warmest enthusiasm. The great delights of my life have been the Shakespearian parts I was privileged to play with Edwin Booth in America, and the Ibsen parts which have fallen to my lot in London. On the other hand, I care very little for the doctrines supposed to be embodied in Henrik Ibsen's dramas. They interest me as they interest every intelligent person, neither less nor more. But I well knew that every one who had been in any way concerned with Ibsen's works was irrevocably written down an "Ibsenite," a "faddist," a fanatic, in the minds of many critics; and it seemed to me equally undesirable that my shortcomings should be laid to the account of the innocent, unconscious, Ibsen, and that the "Ibsenite" creed, which I certainly do not hold, should be read into what I write. Therefore, I did my best, from the first, to preserve my incognito. Three books and some magazine stories by "C. E. Raimond" preceded The Open Question, and no one, to the best of my knowledge, discovered the cloven foot of "Ibsen" in them. Then came The Open Question, and for a fortnight or so, the secret of its authorship was kept. During that time the book was reviewed, favorably and unfavorably, by about a score of newspapers, and not one of those twenty reviewers raised the "Ibsen" cry. The book was judged on its merits, and on the whole, I hasten to add, was very generously appraised. Then The Daily Chronicle published the damning fact that the writer of The Open Question had acted in Ibsen's plays. What was the result? From the moment my publisher (who has been loyalty itself in this matter) found himself constrained to admit the fact, every reviewer has discovered and deplored the paramount influence of Ibsen in my work. The "Daily News" reviews my book under this widely-displayed heading:--" The Open Question --Ibsen and Anarchism in Fiction," and scents in it, not only Ibsenism and Anarchism, but "the cultis of the ego," whatever that may be. The "Westminster Gazette" finds that I have "deep prepossessions, gained chiefly from Ibsen, on the subject of heredity." All the (real or imaginary) tenets of a creed I never dreamed of holding are dogmatically thrust upon me. I am no longer an independent worker, good, bad or indifferent, to be judged on my own merits and condemned for my own sins--I am simply a notorious and convicted "Ibsenite." It is monstrous; it is ludicrous; it is heart-breaking.
And what is the evidence against me? The Open Question of my story--the question of the value of life--was not "opened" by Ibsen, but (so far as my knowledge goes) by the authors of Ecclesiastes and The Book of Job. Ibsen has scarcely even touched upon it. He has been too busy indicting the corrigible abuses of life in the concrete to trouble with the question whether life in the abstract is worth living. The question of consanguineous marriage, which is by no means the subject of my book, but which brings the story to its crisis, is one which, so far as I know, Ibsen has never so much as mentioned. As for the every-day fact that consumption runs in families, is it for a moment to be imagined that I learned it from Ibsen, or even that Ibsen suggested my use of it? Look at the matter from the other side. Take the ideas on which Ibsen has dwelt, and let me ask which of them reappears in my story. They are, as I understand them: --The right of woman to independent individuality ( Doll's House); the immorality of conventional and loveless marriage ( Ghosts); they tyranny of the "compact majority" ( Enemy of the People); the tyranny of a too exigent idealism ( The Wild Duck); enoblement of the individual the basis of true reform ( Rosmersholm); freedom of choice the basis of true marriage ( Lady from the Sea); the blight of bloodless egoism ( Hedda Gabler); the analysis of a sickly conscience ( The Master Builder); the punishment of sensual egoism ( Little Eyolf), and of the egoism of ambition ( John Gabriel Borkman). Does anyone of these themes play the smallest part in The Open Question? Assuredly not. The only one that is for a moment approached is woman's right to an independent career; and before Val has taken any step to assert her "independence," she has lost it once for all in her overmastering love. As for "the cultus of the ego," what is Ibsen if not the very scourge of egoism? Are not five of his greatest plays devoted to satirising different phases of that vice? But suppose I misread him--suppose that "the cultus of the ego" is one of his doctrines--where does that appear in my book? Is it egoism on Ethan's part which prefers death to the burdening of a new creature with a possibly maimed life? Is it egoism on Val's part that makes her, without pretending to share Ethan's shrinking from life, loyally subordinate her Hope to his Fear? Their altruism may be as morbid, as cowardly, as reprehensible as you please, but it is altruism, not egoism. The other "ism" that is flung at my head in big capitals--ANARCHISM--merely shows what courtesy and comprehension one may look for when one is suspected of "Ibsenism." The writer, I am sure, wrote in all good faith, and had no wish to be discourteous. He honestly thought it the most natural think in the world that an "Ibsenite" should also be an "Anarchist" or anything else that is fanatical. His preconception simply blinded him to the plain facts of the case. I draw a sternly conservative, slave-owner grandmother, her mildly Socialistic son, her millionaire-humanitarian, "hard-money" grandson, and her granddaughter who has no politics or sociology, but only love--and I am classed with bomb-throwers and woman-stabbers! I have been through it all on the stage, along with many other equally innocent people. I hoped, by the aid of a pseudonym, to escape running the gauntlet in the field of fiction. I did escape it, until the Daily Chronicle "plucked at the mask," and you see the instant, the inevitable result!
Before you brought home to me the far more terrible crime of "Ibsenism," several critics had seen in me a disciple of Nietzsche. As a matter of fact, I knew just enough of Nietzsche to know that the man whose characters and circumstances I tried to describe in Ethan would be certain to read him and--shrink from. If I have produced upon any candid and moderately attentive reader either that Ethan Gano accepts the doctrines of Nietzsche, or that I, personally accept the doctrines of Ethan Gano, then I have failed in my endeavor. But whatever my errors, they are my own, and all I ask is that they should not be laid at the door of Nietzsche or of Ibsen, but of
--Yours truly, C. E. Raimond
[The author of The Open Question does not perhaps realise the fact that one English journal and one American journal had announced the authorship of this book, and another English journal hinted at in unmistakable terms, before we published the fact. We "plucked no one's mask" until the face behind it had become visible by the action of others. Ed. D.C.]
A notice published on 17 December 1898 published in Academy verifies ER's identiy and includes portrait of Robins and facsimile of long hand draft from the novel.
William Stead, friend of Robins, writes in his The Review of Reviews (January 1, 1899):
It is only fair to Miss Robins to afford her an opportunity of protesting against the supposition that her story is intended as a defence or a suggestion of suicide. The "suicide rubbish," she says, is imputed unrighteousness for which she has no responsibility. Val is her heroine, and Val is a creature instinct with life. Here is a kind of outline or sketch of her original idea of the story:
The Open Question is a love story first and foremost. But the very scheme of the romance emphasises the fact that in the minds of men, as in the creed of the Fire Worshippers, there are two great principles; and according to whether Ormuzd or Abriman predominates we find in people's minds (morals apart) a determining balance in favor of light (joy and faith) or of darkness (pity and fear). It is not experience of life that makes men optimists or pessimists, so much as some subtle inborn tendency, some push in the one direction or the other, given to the soul before it was given consciousness.
The story presents two sharply contrasted temperaments, in which the root differences shall be all the more apparent because the two (man and girl) share the same blood and are shown at certain periods under the same influences.
The girl is an incorrigible optimist. She would never know when she was beaten, and in her no amount of disappointment could quench "the light." A creature half intoxicated with the joy of life, vigorous, brimming with curiosity, reckless and yet capable of patience because she is ambitious, egotistical and yet not ungenerous, full of an invincible faith in the ultimate "happy ending" of all things touching her.
The man is more poetic, far more logical than she, and although richly endowed (as the girl is not) with the material advantages of life, he has never felt that his own prosperity obscured for him the poverty and suffering of the world. A haunting perception of the ironic tragedy at the root of even beautiful and happy things dogs him all his days, and yet he is no gloomy prig, but a "man and a brother" with some saving sense of humour, and more courage to face his own disillusioning than he can muster in contemplating the common lot of man. But what are mere vague tendencies at first are developed by environment.
[Stead continues . . .] That may be so; but with all due deference to the authoress and her study of two temperaments [ . . . ]
The tendency to suicide at the present day is quite strong enough without having the suggestion of self-murder pressed upon the mind and in such a fashion as to make it appear almost a virtue. Our ancestors may have gone too far to the other extreme [ . . .] to make suicide unpopular, but in The Open Question the pendulum surely swings too far on the other side.
[The Zanesville Ohio Signal published, on February 8, 1999, a long article "by Chicago's ablest Reviewer, William Lawrence" with this banner headline echoing the novel's subtitle:]
Elizabeth Robins's book - The Talk of Two Continents
[Much of the biographical and family information is in error. Lawrence examines the historical and local information. He corrects the book's assertion that the house was "built as a fortress against Indians," stating it was built as a school, and used in 1809 when the Legislature needed temporary quarters when it found the capitol not ready."]
Putnam was early a hotbed of abolitionists. Reformers grew rapidly and flourished luxuriantly in its sombre and puritanic atmosphere. The stout new Englander had transplanted to his new home on the sunny bank of the Muskingum all the traditions and prejudices of his bleak and barren native land. The free and easy southerner who settled on this side of the river had a poor opinion of his Putnam neighbor.
Of course Putnam was one of the first and most important stations on the underground railway, and it was under the old stone house, the subject of this sketch, where the fugitive slaves were concealed until they could be safely transported to the next station in the direction of the North star. The trap doors are there still, the mute witnesses of many a heart-breaking incident. There was not and is not yet any cellar under the front portion of the old stone house, but between the floor and the ground there is ample space for the purpose indicated. Descent was made through a trap door and when the fugitives had entered and the door had been replaced, the carpet was respread and the detection was improbable.
[The article refutes the depiction of the house in the novel as run down, and traces the ownership: It ceased being a school in 1837, was purchased by Potwin and remodeled. In 1848 Jane Robins moved into it. From 1896, the property has been under the possession of Charles G. Dillon. ]
Several true incidents of her school life are related in her new book, and numerous others are cherished in the memories of teachers and schoolmates. All concur in the statement that Elizabeth or "Bessie" was a marvelously bright child. She was never quiet for a moment except when asleep, and early developed an abnormal amount of energy and certain strong characteristics which her grandmother wisely deemed worthy of repressive measures. For several years before coming to Zanesville the child had roamed at will about her home at Staten Island and her high spirit could not readily accommodated itself to the refinements and restraints of her venerable grandmother's quiet home in Putnam. Of course the precept and example of her grandmother gradually toned down the too robust elements in her nature and as she grew in years she became more gentle and less headstrong; but her career since leaving school is proof positive that her brilliancy of mind, energy of character and implicit reliance in self were never repressed or obscured.
From her earliest childhood Miss Robins was singularly gifted in expression. Her language indicated the refined lady even when a little mite. Her father spoke the purest English and after came to reside with her grandmother; she never heard anything but the choicest words strung together in classic sentences. Her natural precocity in the use of words was cultivated and enhanced by her associations and environments.
A massive silver service was presented by the Burns club of Baltimore to Asahel Hussey, valued at $1,500. This is the set of silver mentioned in The Open Question.
To pictures of The Stone Academy in Zanesville (1998)
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Available since April 1999; updated 11 Feb. 2021