Elinor Glyn Essay - Critical Essays

Glyn, Elinor

Introduction

Elinor Glyn 1864-1943

(Born Elinor Sutherland) English novelist, scriptwriter, and nonfiction writer.

Glyn earned worldwide fame as a popular novelist specializing in stories with glamorous high society settings. Her most celebrated novel, Three Weeks, challenged conventional morality with its scandalous depiction of an adulterous love affair. Trading on the notoriety she gained with Three Weeks, Glyn also became an influential Hollywood screenwriter and commentator on the subject of romantic love, popularizing the word "it" as a slang term for sexual magnetism.

Biographical Information

While growing up on Jersey, one of the English Channel Islands, Glyn read extensively but had relatively little formal education. When she reached marriageable age, her family, which was economically middleclass with aristocratic pretensions, took her and her sister Lucy (who later earned fame as the fashion designer Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon) to London and Paris in order to introduce them to upperclass social circles. In 1892 she married the English country gentleman Clayton Glyn. Although the marriage provided her with the prestigious social connections she desired, she was not happy with her husband, who did not provide her with either the emotional satisfaction or the economic support she needed, and so she turned to a career in writing. Her first novel, The Visits of Elizabeth, was well-received and she established a popular following with subsequent light romantic stories set in upper class English society. With the publication of Three Weeks, however, she became an international celebrity. During the 1920s she established a successful second career as a screenwriter in Hollywood, collaborating on the photoplay for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1924 production of Three Weeks and other adaptations of her works, including the 1927 boxoffice hit It, which made actress Clara Bow famous as "the It Girl." She also wrote and directed two films in England, Knowing Men and The Price of Things.

Major Works

In novels such as The Visits of Elizabeth, The Vicissitudes of Evangeline, and Elizabeth Visits America, Glyn offered detailed, unconventionally frank observations about the manners and morals of the English aristocracy, featuring veiled descriptions of her own experiences and acquaintances. In contrast to these relatively decorous works, Three Weeks is a passionate erotic fantasy that depends less on plot or character than on sensuous evocation of an exotic, romantic atmosphere. Focusing on a short-lived but intense affair between a young Englishman and an Eastern European queen traveling incognito in Switzerland and Venice, this novel, although not sexually explicit, stimulated tremendous controversy and remained an international bestseller for over two decades. Capitalizing on the lasting fame afforded her by Three Weeks, Glyn concentrated thereafter on writing mainly as a means of making money to support her lavish lifestyle, producing novels, screenplays, magazine articles, and nonfiction writings such as The Philosophy of Love.

Critical Reception

Because of her incomplete education, Glyn never mastered basic rules of grammar and style, and so even her most well-received works were noted for their popular appeal rather than their literary quality. In the decades following the publication of Three Weeks, her reputation declined as she wrote more quickly and carelessly, although her status as a popular culture icon solidified as a result of her talent for publicizing herself. Glyn's works are no longer widely read, but critics observe that Three Weeks remains noteworthy for having played a significant role in breaking down sexual censorship barriers in post-Victorian English literature.

Principal Works

The Visits of Elizabeth (novel) 1900

The Reflections of Ambrosine (novel) 1902; also published as The Seventh Commandment

The Vicissitudes of Evangeline (novel) 1905; also published as Red Hair

Beyond the Rocks (novel) 1906

Three Weeks (novel) 1907

*Three Weeks (play) 1908

Elizabeth Visits America (novel) 1909

His Hour (novel) 1910; also published as When His Hour Came

The Reason Why (novel) 1911

Halcyone (novel) 1912; also published as Love Itself

The Sequence (novel) 1913; also published as Guinevere's Lover

The Man and the Moment (novel) 1915

The Career of Katherine Bush (novel) 1917

The Price of Things (novel) 1919

The Great Moment (screenplay) 1920

The Philosophy of Love (nonfiction) 1920

Man and Maid (novel) 1922

*Three Weeks (screenplay) 1923

It, and Other Stories (short stories) 1927

Knowing Men (screenplay) 1930

†The Price of Things (screenplay) 1930

Glorious Flames (novel) 1932

Love's Hour (novel) 1932

Did She? (novel) 1933

Saint or Satyr? and Other Stories (short stories) 1933

Sooner or Later (novel) 1933

Romantic Adventure (autobiography) 1936

The Third Eye (novel) 1940

*These works are adaptations of the novel Three Weeks.

†This work is an adaptation of the novel The Price of Things.

Criticism

The New York Times Book Review (essay date 1906)

SOURCE: "Smart Society," in The New York Times Book Review, November, 1906, 771 p.

[In the following review, the critic reacts negatively to Glyn's Beyond the Rocks, citing the novel's "moral atmosphere" as "decidely unwholesome."]

Elinor Glyn's new story, Beyond the Rocks, (Harper,) furnishes another of those saddening pictures of smart society for which she is already responsible to the number of two or three, though it has always been British smart society whose unseemliness she exposed. "Exposed" is perhaps not the best word, either, because one does not gather from the author's method of telling her story that she has the slightest idea of criticising the morals or manners of the set of people of whom she writes or of impressing her readers with their urgent need of missionaries. They are not labeled as bohemians, or free-thinkers, or eccentrics of any kind, but just exhibited as the ordinary run of nice (?) English men and women, pursuing their ordinary tactics in the game of life, but it strikes one looking at them from the provincial, and perhaps narrow-minded, Western shore of the Atlantic that they are hardly fit to associate with. One wonders if English people like the decidedly shady version of themselves which will get abroad through the medium of Mrs. Glyn's book, entirely without intention on her part, apparently.

But that is not the worst thing about Beyond the Rocks. The whole moral atmosphere of the book is of a decidedly unwholesome and vitiated character, since it not only condones the weaknesses and worse of its several characters, but actually expects us to accept them at their own valuation and rejoice in the combination of circumstances that landed the hero and heroine safely "beyond the rocks." though barely in time to save their reputations. At the opening of the story Theodora Fitzgerald has married a dreadful...

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The New York Times Saturday Review of Books (essay date 1909)

SOURCE: "Mrs. Glyn's Ideas of America", in The New York Times Saturday Review of Books, May 22, 1909, 321 p.

[In the following review, the critic praises Glyn's novel Elizabeth Visits America, but accuses Glyn of pandering to the American public with her portrayals of Americans.]

Mrs. Elinor Glyn has made a book about her recent visit to the United States of America following upon the splutter and splash among the talkative and unsophisticated which was caused by the spectacular plunge of her lady of the famous tiger skin into public notice. To be sure, readers trained in the French school of scandal found it a dull Three Weeks, for all the black...

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Arnold Bennett (essay date 1917)

SOURCE: "Mrs. Elinor Glyn", in Books and Persons: Being Comments on a Past Epoch, George H. Doran and Company, 1911, pp. 271-277.

[In the following essay, Bennett praises Glyn's novel His Hour, describing it as "magnificently sexual."]

After all, the world does move. I never thought to be able to congratulate the Circulating Libraries on their attitude towards a work of art; and here in common fairness I, who have so often animadverted upon their cowardice, am obliged to laud their courage. The instant cause of this is Mrs. Elinor Glyn's new novel, His Hour. Everybody who cares for literature knows, or should know, Mrs. Glyn's fine carelessness of...

(The entire section is 1377 words.)

Raymond Mortimer (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "A Review", in The New Statesman: A Weekly Review of Politics and Literature, Vol. XXI, May, 1923, pp. 144-146.

[In the following essay, Mortimer praises Glyn's ability to treat scandalous material, and calls her novel The Great Moment "a sociological phenomenon."]

David Garnett and Elinor Glyn! Some like one, and some like the other, but is it not ridiculous to say that Mrs. Glyn's work is inferior to Mr. Garnett's? As well protest that the Hammam Turkish Baths are not so good as the operas of Mozart! Lady into Fox is a work of art (I take Mr. Garnett as an example because he has gained his reputation, not by splitting psychological hairs, but by...

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Norman Douglas (essay date 1925)

SOURCE: "Fiction", in Experiments, Robert M. McBride and Company, 1925, pp. 23-32.

[In the following essay, Douglas provides a plot summary of Glyn's novel The Sequence and praises Glyn's ability to write of events considered shocking—particularly sexuality—without being crude.]

The Sequence is a simple tale. Guinevere, at the age of seventeen, is forced into a loveless marriage with a stern soldier twice, or possibly thrice, her own age. She is an old-fashioned, refined, and misunderstood female with "a demure air and a rebellious gleam in her eyes"—she lives in a state of trembling sensibility and in abject terror of her grumpy old male. So...

(The entire section is 1068 words.)

Isabel Paterson (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: "A Review", in The New York Herald Tribune Books, v. 13, January 24, 1937, 13 p.

[In the following essay, Paterson praises Glyn's autobiography Romantic Adventure.]

The tiger skin was real. Readers who like to know whether or not a novel is "true" will be glad to check up on this historic item by turning to page 127 of Mrs. Glyn's autobiography [Romantic Adventure], in which she Tells All. They may, however, be a trifle disappointed by the innocent comedy of the facts. During the summer of 1902 Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Glyn made a brief sojourn in Lucerne. "The setting was ideally romantic," but Mr. Glyn apparently took scenery for granted, and...

(The entire section is 1298 words.)

Anthony Glyn (essay date 1955)

SOURCE: Elinor Glyn: A Biography, Hutchinson, 1955, 356 p.

[In the following excerpt, Glyn provides a biographical survey of Glyn's film screenplays.]

It is difficult now, more than thirty years later, to recreate the extraordinary topsy-turvy atmosphere of Hollywood in 1920. The lusty young film industry, only a few years old, was finding its feet and was full of boisterous self-confidence. Everyone connected with the studios was firmly convinced that he or she knew all about everything, even ways of life far removed from his own, confirmed in this belief by the large box-office returns brought in even by the primitive silent films then being made.

...

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