(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.