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Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err
With her
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 flaws.

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 like it."

Adapted from the Penguin Encyclopaedia of Women.

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