Elizabeth Robinson's latest book of poems is a journey through three Victorian novels: Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone and The Woman in White, and George Gissing's Eve's Ransom. In Robinson's deft hands, these three texts come to life with layered evocations of the feminine.
One theme that the project brings to light is ownership, particularly in reference to the female body. The diction of the source texts and the constraints of Victorian etiquette create a tension to which the body responds; Robinson's poems consider how a woman might be the agent of her own destiny. In a poem from the section, "The Woman in White," Robinson writes
Whom did she know as her
self or pull as a thread from fabric
shaped from this blurred horizon—
did she wed or disclose in white weather?
Another feature of Three Novels is the way in which Robinson's exploration of the source texts exposes hidden paths and potential doorways. This re-opening of narrative serves as an apt metaphor for how readers might find new sites of possibility in their own stories. In her praise of the collection, Martha Ronk notes that Robinson's "original and intriguing exploration urges reading, itself, as a way to grasp our lives."
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, fall 2011, issue 41.