Elinor Glyn (October 17, 1864 - September 23, 1943) was a Jersey-born novelist who pioneered mass-market women’s erotic fiction. Born Elinor Sutherland, she coined the use of 'It' as a euphemism for sex appeal. 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 and Gloria Swanson.
Elinor Glyn was born in Saint Helier, the younger daughter of Douglas Sutherland (1838–1865), a civil engineer of Scottish descent, and 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 Canada with her two daughters Lucy and baby Elinor. Elinor was schooled by her grandmother, Lucy Anne Saunders, 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.
Her elder sister grew up to be Lady Duff-Gordon, famous as the fashion designer "Lucile". Their mother apparently remarried in 1871 a Mr Kennedy, and the family returned to Jersey when Elinor 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 Elinor married Clayton Louis Glyn (1857–1915), a wealthy landowner, descended from Sir Richard Carr Glyn, an 18th century Lord Mayor of London. The couple had two daughters, Margot and Juliet, but the marriage foundered.
Elinor began writing in 1900, starting with a book based on letters to her mother. She 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 Marquess Curzon of Kedleston. She was famously painted by society painter Philip de Laszlo at the age of 48. The painting was apparently commissioned by Lord Curzon, who also gave her the sapphires she was wearing in the portrait.
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 on 23 September 1943 in London, survived by her two daughters.
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. In 1927 she helped to make a star of actress Clara Bow, for whom she coined the sobriquet "the It girl".
Apart from being a scriptwriter for the silent movie industry, working for both MGM and Paramount studios 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 Damn Thing After Another:
- I read my Plato
- Love, I thought a sin
- But since your kiss
- I'm reading missus Glyn!
She makes a cameo appearance as herself in the 1928 film, Show People.
Reviewing Glyn's novel It, Dorothy Parker wrote of the heroine, "It, hell. She had Those."
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.
- A 2004 essay by Louise Harrington (Cardiff University), from The Literary Encyclopedia
- 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)