Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
On some other fur?
--Anonymous, after 1907
A popular Edwardian writer of racy, action-filled
romantic novels, Elinor Glyn (1864 - 1943) was perhaps best
known as the author of It, for which she also wrote the
screenplay. Filmed in 1927, It immortalized its star, Clara
Bow, who became world-famous as "the `It' Girl."
She was born Elinor Sutherland on Jersey, the
daughter of a Scottish civil engineer who died when she was a
baby. Her childhood was spent in Canada with her mother and her
aristocratic French grandmother, whose background in royal
circles was a strong influence. Her mother later remarried and
the family returned to Jersey. Rebelling against her overbearing
stepfather and a series of governesses, Elinor spent much time
on her own, reading and exercising her imagination. She grew up
to be a striking beauty, but, although surrounded by male
admirers, she did not marry until she was 28, when she accepted
an offer of marriage from the landowner Clayton Glyn.
Her first novel was The Visits of Elizabeth (1900),
a well-observed portrait of English country-house society;
however, her first major success, Three Weeks (1907), was very
different, and influenced strongly by the disintegration of her
life: her marriage was a disaster. A romantic flight of fantasy,
relating the story of an affair between a young Englishman and an
older, eastern European queen, the book was an instant success,
if only for scenes like: "They were sitting on the tiger by
now and she undulated round and all over him... till at last it
seemed as if she were twined about him like a serpent."
London society was titillated, and the book was
banned at Eton after schoolboys started reading the saucier
passages. The verse quoted above about Elinor circulated, and she
became overnight the High Priestess of Passion. Lord Curzon gave
her a tiger skin and fell in love with her, but later deserted
her for a rich American widow. Her drunken, bankrupt husband died
leaving her penniless, and she was forced to write for a living.
His Hour (1910) was inspired by a winter she spent at the
Russian court in St. Petersburg, and the novels that followed,
such as Halcyon (1912), The Man and His Master (1915), and The
Career of Catherine Brown (1917), reflected her private
fantasies with their aristocratic heroines and dashing heroes,
based on such real-life figures as Lord Curzon. These novels were
hugely popular, despite their improbable plots and grammatical
In 1920 Glyn became a Hollywood scriptwriter, adapting Three
Weeks and It, which was a great success, for the
screen. After a short spell in film production she returned to
Britain in 1929. Her later novels include Did She? (1934) and The
Third Eye (1940). The Philosophy of Love (1923) and her
autobiography Romantic Adventures (1926) express her personal
views on life and love.
Samuel Goldwyn wrote of her, "Elinor Glyn's name is
synonymous with the discovery of sex appeal for cinema." She
had a company in her name, wrote books on etiquette, and was a
friend of Charlie Chaplin's. She was also one of the first
women to have her face lifted, and appeared in public with a
marmalade Persian cat draped over one shoulder.
Today her books are mainly out of print. But in 1933, she was
among the first seven international novelists, ranking with Arthur
Conan Doyle and Edgar Wallace. She summed up all that can ever
be said about her novels, or those of novelists like her, in one
sentence: "I write about rich environments and lovely women
and handsome men - it isn't a bit clever, but people do seem to
Adapted from the Penguin Encyclopaedia of Women.