Portrait of Elinor Glyn
17 October 1864
Jersey, Channel Islands
|Died||23 September 1943
London, England, UK
|Literary movement||Modernism, Romance|
|Notable work(s)||Beyond the Rocks, Three Weeks, The Visits of Elizabeth|
|Spouse(s)||Clayton Louis Glyn|
|Children||Margot Elinor Glyn and Juliet Evangeline Glyn|
Elinor Glyn (17 October 1864 – 23 September 1943), born Elinor Sutherland, was a British novelist and scriptwriter who specialised in risqué romantic fiction which was considered scandalous for its time. She popularized the concept of It. Although her works are relatively tame by modern standards, she had tremendous influence on early 20th century popular culture, and perhaps on the careers of notable Hollywood stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, and Clara Bow.
Elinor Glyn was born in Saint Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands, the younger daughter of Douglas Sutherland (1838–1865), a civil engineer of Scottish descent related to the Lords Duffus, by his wife Elinor Saunders (1841–1937), of an Anglo-French family which had settled in Canada. Following the death of her father when she was just two months old, her mother returned to the parental home in Guelph, Ontario with her two daughters Lucy Christiana and baby Elinor. Here Elinor was schooled by her grandmother, Lucy Anne Saunders née Willcocks (an Anglo-Irish aristocrat and daughter of Sir Richard Willcocks) in the ways of upper-class society. This training not only gave her an entrée into aristocratic circles on her return to Europe, but it led her to be considered an authority on style and breeding when she worked in Hollywood in the 1920s.
Glyn's elder sister grew up to be Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, famous as the fashion designer "Lucile". Glyn's mother apparently remarried in 1871, a Mr Kennedy, and the family returned to Jersey when Glyn was eight years old. Her subsequent education at her stepfather's house was by governesses.
At the age of twenty-eight, the green-eyed, red-haired, but dowryless Elinor married on 27 April 1892. Her husband was Clayton Louis Glyn (1857–1915), a wealthy but spendthrift landowner, descended from Sir Richard Carr Glyn an 18th century Lord Mayor of London (according to her grandson Anthony Glyn). The couple had two daughters, Margot and Juliet, but the marriage foundered on mutual incompatibility. Glyn began writing in 1900, starting with a book based on letters to her mother. Her marriage was troubled, and Glyn began having affairs with various British aristocrats. Her Three Weeks, about an exotic Balkan queen who seduces a young British aristocrat, was allegedly inspired by her affair with Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duke of Roxburghe, and scandalized Edwardian society. She had a long lasting affair between 1906 and 1916 with George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston. She was famously painted by society painter Philip de Laszlo at the age of 48.
As her husband fell into debt from 1908, Glyn wrote at least one novel a year to keep up her standard of living. He died in 1915 after several years of illness.
Elinor Glyn died 23 September 1943 in Chelsea, London, survived by her two daughters. Her elder daughter Margot Elinor, Lady Davson OBE died 10 September 1966 in Rome; she married Sir Edward Davson, 1st Baronet (14 September 1875 – 9 August 1937) in 1921 and had two sons: Geoffrey Leo Simon Davson, who inherited his father's baronetcy (created 1927) but changed his name to Anthony Glyn (13 March 1922 – 20 January 1998), and Christopher Davson.
- Margot Elinor Glyn, later Margot, Lady Davson OBE (June 1893 - 10 September 1966 in Rome); she married Sir Edward Rae Davson, 1st Baronet (14 September 1875 – 9 August 1937) in 1921 and had 2 sons
- Anthony Glyn (13 March 1922 – 20 January 1998), author, previously Sir Geoffrey Davson, 2nd Baronet. He was born Geoffrey Leo Simon Davson, but changed his name to Anthony Geoffrey Ian Simon Glyn by Deed Poll in 1957. In 1937, aged 15, he inherited his father's baronetcy (created 1927) and was known as Sir Geoffrey Davson, 2nd Baronet. In 1955, he published an entertaining if tactful biography of his maternal grandmother. He married 1946 Susan Rhys Williams, daughter of Sir Rhys Rhys Williams Bt (and thus probably his first cousin), and had issue one daughter Victoria (one other daughter Caroline deceased 1981). The baronetcy thus passed to his younger brother:
- Sir Christopher Michael Edward Davson, 2nd Baronet (1927–2004)
- Juliet Evangeline Glyn, later Dame Juliet Rhys-Williams DBE (1898–1964), a governor of the BBC 1952-1956. she married 24 February 1921 the much older Liberal politician Sir Rhys Rhys-Williams Bt (20 October 1865 – 29 January 1955, died aged 89), MP for Banbury 1918-1922, and had issue, two sons and two daughters. Both husband and wife abandoned the Liberal Party for the Conservative Party.
- Sir Brandon Rhys-Williams, 2nd Baronet (14 November 1927 – 18 May 1988), MP for Kensington South 1968-1974, then for Kensington 1974-1988, also MEP 1973-1984. By his wife Caroline Susan Foster, he had issue including:
- a second son
- Susan Rhys-Williams, who married her cousin Anthony Glyn (above) and became Lady Glyn.
- Elspeth Rhys-Williams, later Chowdhary-Best.
She pioneered risqué and sometimes erotic romantic fiction aimed at a female readership which was radical for its time, though her writing would not be considered scandalous by modern standards. She coined the use of It, which is repeatedly yet erroneously described as a euphemism for sexuality, or sex appeal. She wrote magazine articles for the Hearst press giving advice on how to keep your man and health and beauty tips. 'The Elinor Glyn System of Writing' (1922) gives insights into writing for Hollywood studios and magazine editors at this time.
From the 1927 novel, It: "To have 'It', the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes... In the animal world 'It' demonstrates in tigers and cats--both animals being fascinating and mysterious, and quite unbiddable." From the 1927 movie, It: "self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not". She was the celebrated author of such early 20th century bestsellers as It, Three Weeks, Beyond the Rocks, and other novels which were then considered quite racy.
On the strength of the popularity and notoriety of her books, Glyn moved to Hollywood to work in the movie industry in 1920. She is credited with the re-styling of Gloria Swanson from giggly starlet to elegant star. Beyond the Rocks was made into a silent film released in 1922; the Sam Wood-directed film stars Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino as a romantic pair. In 1927 she helped to make a star of actress Clara Bow for whom she coined the sobriquet "the It girl". In 1928, Bow also starred in Red Hair based on Glyn's 1905 novel.
Apart from being a scriptwriter for the silent movie industry, working for both MGM and Paramount Pictures in Hollywood in the mid-1920s, she had a brief career as one of the earliest female directors.
References in popular culture 
- A scene in Glyn's most sensational work, Three Weeks, inspired the doggerel:
- Would you like to sin
- With Elinor Glyn
- On a tiger skin?
- Or would you prefer
- To err with her
- On some other fur?
- Glyn also makes an appearance in a 1927 Lorenz Hart song, "My Heart Stood Still" from One Dam Thing After Another:
- I read my Plato
- Love, I thought a sin
- But since your kiss
- I'm reading missus Glyn!
- She makes cameo appearances as herself in the 1927 film "It" and in the 1928 film Show People.
- She occasionally cites herself in the third person in her own books, as in Man and Maid (1922) when she has a character refer to "that It" as something "Elinor Glyn writes of in her books." 
- In Evelyn Waugh's 1952 novel Men at Arms (the first of the Sword of Honour trilogy), a (RAF) Air Marshal recites the poem upon spotting a polar-bear rug by the fire in a London club, of which he has just wangled membership (p. 125). To this, another member responds 'Who the hell is Elinor Glyn?'. The Air Marshal replies 'Oh, just a name, you know, put in to make it rhyme.' This was both a snub to the Air Marshal, and a literary snubbing of Glyn by Waugh.
- ‘Never had he met a woman in whom 'the great It', eloquently hymned by Mrs Elinor Glyn, was so completely lacking.'
- Among the funniest of S. J. Perelman's writings is his series of pieces Cloudland Revisited in which as a middle-aged man, he re-reads and describes the risqué novels that had thrilled him as a youth. Tuberoses and Tigers deals with Glyn's Three Weeks. Perelman described it as 'servant-girl literature' and called Glyn's style 'marshmallow'. Perelman also mentions a film version of the book made by Samuel Goldwyn in 1924, in which Aileen Pringle starred. Perelman recalled Goldwyn's 'seductive' image of Pringle 'lolling on a tiger skin...'
- In the 1962 film version of Meredith Willson's musical The Music Man, Marian Paroo, the librarian, asks the prudish Mrs. Shinn, the mayor's wife, if she would not rather have her daughter reading the classic Persian poetry of Omar Khayyam than Elinor Glyn, to which Mrs. Shinn replies, "What Elinor Glyn reads is her mother's problem!"
- In Upstairs, Downstairs, after Elizabeth Bellamy's disastrous marriage she meets a new lover, the social-climber Julius Karekin. After a passionate night, he sleeps while she reads part of Chapter XI of Three Weeks aloud.
- In the 2001 movie The Cat's Meow, Elinor Glyn, played by Joanna Lumley, is one of the guests aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht on the fateful weekend Thomas Ince died. Lumley, as Glyn, provides voice-over narration at the beginning and the end of the film.
- In his autobiography Mark Twain describes the time he met Glyn, when they had a wide-ranging and frank discussion of "nature's laws" and other matters not to be repeated.
- In the 1923 film The Ten Commandments, one title card says "Nobody believes in these Commandment things nowadays - and I think Elinor Glyn's a lot more interesting."
- Papers of Elinor Glyn, 1894-1955
- Contrary to this source, Lucy and Lady Duff-Gordon are one and the same. Retrieved and checked 15 March 2009.
- Online literature: Elinor Glyn (cited above), gives further details.
- Online literature: Elinor Glyn (cited above), gives further details of the reception of the book.
- "Historic People: Montacute's Tigress: Elinor Glyn" BBC, 11 February 2009, describes their affair as an eight-year-long one which collapsed circa 1915-1916, and ended with her discovery of his engagement to marry a second time. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- . The painting was apparently commissioned by her lover Lord Curzon who also gave her the sapphires she was wearing in the portrait. According to an informant, the painting is still owned by her family. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- "Death Announcements (D to G), The Times" p.3(html version). Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- G. Chowdharay-Best. [sic: G. Chowdhury-Best]. Anthony Glyn (obituary) The Independent (as archived in findarticles.com), 10 February 1998.
- Sarah Lyall. "Sir Anthony Glyn, 75, Author Known for Spirit and Diversity" New York Times 28 January 1998.
- Papers of Juliet Rhys-Williams British Library of Political and Economic Science. Retrieved 15 March 2009
- Burke's Peerage: Rhys-Williams Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- Vanity Fair magazine September 1921, accessed 2009
- Weedon, Alexis, 'Elinor Glyn's System of Writing', Publishing History, vol. 60. pp. 31-50, 2006.
- Bloom, Clive (2008). Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 175–176. ISBN 978-0-230-53688-3.
- Barnett, Vincent L., 'Picturization partners: Elinor Glyn and the Thalberg contract affair', Film History, vol. 19 no. 3, 2007.
- Glyn, Elinor. Man and Maid,. Philadeliphia: Lippincott, 1922. Print. p. 125.
- Perelman, S.J. Listen to the Mocking Bird. Reinhardt and Evans, London, 1950. pp. 70 - 78.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Elinor Glyn|
- Works by Elinor Glyn at Project Gutenberg
- A 2004 essay by Louise Harrington (Cardiff University), from The Literary Encyclopedia
- Elinor Glyn at the Internet Movie Database
- The Elinor Glyn Papers from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
- "Historic People: Montacute's Tigress: Elinor Glyn" BBC, 11 February 2009. Retrieved 15 March 2009. (Photo by Elspeth Chowdhary-Best).
- Papers of Elinor Glyn Reading University Library. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- "Love & Sin on a Tiger Skin" Time magazine, 11 July 1955.
- Anthony Glyn. Elinor Glyn: A Life Doubleday & Company, 1955 (internet archive)
- Elinor Glyn at Virtual History
- Elinor Glyn painted in 1912, by commission of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India. Retrieved 15 March 2009.