Elinor Glyn

Elinor Glyn
Portrait of Elinor Glyn
Portrait of Elinor Glyn
BornElinor Sutherland
(1864-10-17)17 October 1864
Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom
Died23 September 1943(1943-09-23) (aged 78)
Chelsea, London, England, United Kingdom
Pen nameElinor Glyn
Occupationnovelist and scriptwriter
Literary movementModernism
Notable worksBeyond the Rocks, Three Weeks, The Visits of Elizabeth
Clayton Louis Glyn
(m. 1892; died 1915)
RelativesLucy, Lady Duff-Gordon (sister)

Elinor Glyn (née Sutherland; 17 October 1864 – 23 September 1943) was a British novelist and scriptwriter who specialised in romantic fiction, which was considered scandalous for its time, although her works are relatively tame by modern standards. She popularized the concept of the It-girl, and had tremendous influence on early 20th-century popular culture and, possibly, on the careers of notable Hollywood stars such as Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson and, especially, Clara Bow.

Early life and family background

Elinor Sutherland was born on 17 October 1864 in Saint Helier, Jersey, in the Channel Islands. She was the younger daughter of Douglas Sutherland (1838–1865), a civil engineer of Scottish descent, and his wife Elinor Saunders (1841–1937), of an Anglo-French family that had settled in Canada. Her father was said to be related to the Lords Duffus.[1][2]

Her father died when she was two months old; her mother returned to the parental home in Guelph, in what was then Upper Canada, British North America (now Ontario) with her two daughters.[3] Here, young Elinor was taught by her grandmother, Lucy Anne Saunders (née Willcocks), daughter of Sir Richard Willcocks, a magistrate in the early Irish police force, who helped to suppress the Emmet Rising in 1803.[4][5] Richard's brother Joseph also settled in Upper Canada, publishing one of the first opposition papers there, pursuing liberty, and dying a rebel in 1814. The Anglo-Irish grandmother instructed young Elinor in the ways of upper-class society. This training not only gave her an entrée into aristocratic circles on her return to Europe, it also led her reputation as an authority on style and breeding when she worked in Hollywood in the 1920s. Her grandfather on her mother's side, Thomas Saunders (1795-1873) was a direct descendant of the Saunders family who had possessed Pitchcott Manor in Buckinghamshire for several centuries.[6]

The family lived in Guelph for seven years at a stone home that still stands near the University of Guelph.[3] By 1872, their mother had remarried and took the sisters back to Britain. They were preteens at the time and years later, would build their careers in the United States. Glyn's elder sister grew up to be Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, famous as a fashion designer under the name Lucile.[7] Glyn's mother remarried in 1871 to David Kennedy, and the family returned to Jersey when Glyn was about eight years old.[8] Her subsequent education at her stepfather's house was by governesses.[9]

Marriage and authorhood

At the age of 28, the green-eyed, red-haired but dowryless Elinor married on 27 April 1892. Her husband was Clayton Louis Glyn (13 July 1857 – 10 November 1915), a wealthy but spendthrift barrister and Essex landowner who was descended from Sir Richard Carr Glyn, an 18th-century Lord Mayor of London.[10] The couple had two daughters, Margot and Juliet, but the marriage foundered on mutual incompatibility.

Glyn began writing in 1900, starting with Visits of Elizabeth, a book based on letters to her mother, although in her memoirs Lady Angela Forbes says that Glyn used her as the prototype of Elizabeth.[11] 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 16-years junior Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duke of Roxburghe, and it scandalized Edwardian society.[12] She had a long affair between circa 1907 and 1916 with George Curzon.[13] She was famously painted by society painter Philip de László at the age of 48.[14]

As her husband fell into debt from around 1908, Glyn wrote at least one novel a year to keep up her standard of living. Her husband died in November 1915, aged 58, after several years of illness.

Writing career

Jackie Coogan"Nazimova" (actress)Gloria SwansonHollywood BoulevardPicture taken in 1907 of this junctionHarold LloydWill RogersElinor Glyn (Writer)"Buster" KeatonWilliam S. Hart (Two-Gun Bill)Rupert Hughes (Novelist)Roscoe "Fatty" ArbuckleWallace ReidDouglas FairbanksBebe Daniels"Bull" MontanaRex IngramPeter the hermitCharlie ChaplinAlice Terry (Actress)Mary PickfordWilliam C. deMilleCecil Blount DeMilleUse button to enlarge or cursor to investigate
This 1922 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton[15] shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.

Glyn pioneered risqué, and sometimes erotic, romantic fiction aimed at a female readership, a radical idea for its time—though her writing is not scandalous by modern standards. She coined the use of the word it to mean a characteristic that "...draws all others with magnetic force. With 'IT' you win all men if you are a woman–and all women if you are a man. 'IT' can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction."[16] Her use of the word is often erroneous taken to be a euphemism for sexuality or sex appeal.[17]

In 1919 she signed a contract with William Randolph Hearst's International Magazine Company for stories and articles that included a clause for the motion picture rights.[18] She was brought over from England to write screenplays by the Famous Players-Lasky Production Company.[19] She wrote for Cosmopolitan and other Hearst press titles, advising women on how to keep their men and imparting health and beauty tips. The Elinor Glyn System of Writing (1922) gives insights into writing for Hollywood studios and magazine editors of the time.[20]

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".[21] Glyn was the celebrated author of such early 20th-century bestsellers as "It",[22] Three Weeks,[23] Beyond the Rocks[24] and other novels that were quite racy for the time. The screenplay of the novel It helped Glyn gain popularity as a screenwriter. However, she is only credited as an author, adapter, and co-producer on the project. She also made a cameo appearance in the film.[19]

On the strength of the popularity and notoriety of her books, Glyn moved to Hollywood to work in the movie industry in 1920. She was one of the most famous women screenwriters in the 1920s. She has 28 story or screenwriting credits, three producing credits, and two credits for directing.[25] Her first script was called The Great Moment and starred Gloria Swanson. She is credited[who?] with the re-styling of Swanson from giggly starlet to elegant star. The duo connected again when Beyond the Rocks was made into a silent film that was released in 1922; the Sam Wood-directed film stars Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino as a romantic pair. In 1927, Glyn 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, which was 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.[26] Her family established a company in 1924, Elinor Glyn Ltd, to which she signed her copyrights receiving an income from the firm and an annuity in later life. The firm was an early pioneer of cross-media branding.[27]


Glyn was responsible for many screenplays in the 1920s that included Six Hours (1923). Three Weeks (1924) was one of her most famous pieces about a Queen in a struggling marriage who while on vacation has a three-week affair with a man.[25] In addition to that, His Hour (1924), which was directed by King Vidor, Love's Blindness (1926), a movie about a marriage that is done strictly for financial reasons only, Man and Maid (1925), about a man who must choose between two different women, The Only Thing (1925), Ritzy (1927), Red Hair (1928), which was a comedy vehicle to demonstrate the passion of red-haired people, and The Price of Things (1930). Three screenplays based on Glyn's novels and a story in the mid to late twenties, Man and Maid, The Only Thing, and Ritzy did not do well at the box office, despite the success Glyn gained with her first project, The Great Moment, which was in the same genre.[25] In 1930 she wrote her first non-silent film, Such Men Are Dangerous, her last screenplay in the United States.[25]

Elinor Glyn Ltd

Glyn returned home to England in 1929 in part because of tax demands. With her return she set out to form her own production company, Elinor Glyn Ltd. After she started the company, she began working as a film director as well. Paying out of her own pocket, she directed Knowing Men in 1930, which showed a more traditionalist view of men as sexual harassers. The project was a disaster, and the screenwriter Edward Knoblock sued Glyn so that the work could not be released. Elinor Glyn Ltd produced a second film in 1930, The Price of Things, which was also unsuccessful and was never released in the US. As her company failed and she exhausted her finances, Glyn decided to retire from film work and instead focus on her first passion, writing novels.[19]


After a short illness, Glyn died on 23 September 1943, at 39 Royal Avenue, Chelsea, London, aged 78,[28] and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.[29] Her ashes lie above the door to the Jewish Shrine at the west end of the columbarium.

She was survived by two daughters. Her elder daughter Margot Elinor, Lady Davson OBE 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 in 1927) but changed his name to Anthony Glyn (13 March 1922 – 20 January 1998), and Christopher Davson. Margot Elinor died on 10 September 1966 in Rome.[30]


  • 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 two sons:
    • Anthony Glyn (13 March 1922 – 20 January 1998), author, previously Sir Geoffrey Davson, 2nd Baronet. He was born Geoffrey Leo Simon Davson, but he changed his name to Anthony Geoffrey Ian Simon Glyn by deed poll in 1957. In 1937, at the age of 15, he inherited his father's baronetcy (created in 1927) and became known as Sir Geoffrey Davson, 2nd Baronet. He was a prolific writer and in 1955 he published an entertaining if tactful biography of his maternal grandmother, Elinor Glyn.[31] In 1946, he married his first cousin, Susan Rhys-Williams, daughter of Sir Rhys Rhys-Williams Bt. They had two daughters, Victoria and Caroline.[32][33] The baronetcy thus passed to his younger brother, Christopher Davson.
      • Victoria
      • Caroline Glyn (née Davson) (27 August 1947 – 15 May 1981), novelist, poet, and artist. Her first novel, Don't Knock the Corners Off, was published in 1963 when she was 15. At the age of 20, she became a contemplative nun with the enclosed order of Poor Clares at Community of St. Clare, Freeland, Oxfordshire, later helping to found a new monastery in Stroud, New South Wales, Australia. In the convent she continued to publish and to create artworks.
    • Sir Christopher Michael Edward Davson, 3rd Baronet (1927–2004)
      • Sir George Trenchard Simon Davson, 4th Baronet (born 1964)
  • Juliet Evangeline Glyn, later Dame Juliet Rhys-Williams DBE (1898–1964), who was a governor of the BBC from 1952 to 1956. She married (on 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 1918–22, and they had two sons and two daughters.[34] 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 1968–74, then for Kensington 1974–88, also MEP 1973–84. By his wife Caroline Susan Foster, he had the following children, including:
      • Sir (Arthur) Gareth Ludovic Emrys Rhys-Williams, 3rd Baronet (born 1961)[35]
    • a second son
    • Susan Rhys-Williams, who married her cousin Anthony Glyn (above) and became Lady Glyn. A former barrister, she was a poet and artist.
    • Elspeth Rhys-Williams, later Chowdhary-Best.

References in popular culture

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err with her
On some other fur?
  • 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".
  • She occasionally cited 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".[36]
  • 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."
  • 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". He 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..."[37]
  • Glyn made 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!
"Never had he met a woman in whom 'the great "It"', eloquently hymned by Mrs Elinor Glyn, was so completely lacking."
  • In Evelyn Waugh's 1952 novel Men at Arms (the first of the Sword of Honour trilogy), an (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.
  • In the 1954 Stanley Donen-directed film Deep in My Heart, the musical number "It" features singer-actress-dancer Ann Miller singing about Elinor Glyn and Sigmund Freud.
  • 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 end of the film.
  • In season five, episode three of Downton Abbey (set in 1924), the character Tom Branson refers to the scandalous nature of Elinor Glyn's novels.


Cover of the 1915 edition of Three Things

Elizabeth series

  1. The Visits of Elizabeth (1900)
  2. Elizabeth Visits America (1909)

Three Weeks series

  1. Three Weeks (1907)
  2. One Day (1909) (unauthorized sequel by an anonymous author)
  3. High Noon (1910) (unauthorized sequel by an anonymous author)

The Price of Things series

  1. The Price of Things (1919), a.k.a. Family
  2. Glorious Flames (1932)

Single novels

  • The Reflections of Ambrosine (1902), a.k.a. The Seventh Commandment
  • The Damsel and the Sage (1903)
  • The Vicissitudes of Evangeline (1905), a.k.a. Red Hair
  • Beyond the Rocks (1906)
  • When the Hour Came (1910), a.k.a. His Hour, a.k.a. When His Hour Came
  • The Reason Why (1911)
  • Halcyone (1912) a.k.a. Love Itself
  • The Sequence (1913) a.k.a. Guinevere's Lover
  • The Point of View (1913)
  • The Man and the Moment (1914)
  • Letters to Caroline (1914) a.k.a. Your Affectionate Godmother
  • The Career of Katherine Bush (1916)
  • Man and Maid (1922)
  • The Great Moment (1923)
  • Six Days (1924)
  • Love's Blindness (1926)
  • Knowing Men (1930)
  • The Flirt and the Flapper (1930)
  • Love's Hour (1932)
  • Sooner or Later (1933)
  • Did She? (1934)
  • The Third Eye (1940)

Omnibus stories

  • The Contrast and Other Stories (1913)
  • "It" and Other Stories (1927)
  • Saint or Satyr? and Other Stories (1933) as Such Men Are Dangerous


  • The Sayings of Grandmamma and Others (1908)
  • Three Things (1915)
  • Destruction (1918)
  • The Elinor Glyn System of Writing (1922)
  • The Philosophy of Love (1923), a.k.a. Love – what I think of It
  • Letters from Spain (1924)
  • This Passion Called Love (1925)
  • The Wrinkle Book, Or, How to Keep Looking Young (1927), a.k.a. Eternal Youth
  • The Flirt and the Flapper (1930)
  • Romantic Adventure. Being the Autobiography of Elinor Glyn (1936)





  1. ^ Stevenson, Jane. "Features". archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012.
  2. ^ Elinor Glyn (1955), a memoir by her grandson Anthony Glyn. The Sutherlands were descended from David Sutherland, Laird of Cambusavie, allegedly a son of Alexander Sutherland, a younger brother of the Jacobite 3rd Lord Duffus, who is described in The Scots Peerage as having died without issue. The fact that the 6th Lord Duffus inherited in 1827 over the now Canadian Sutherlands, who sold their estates in the 1770s to the Earl of Sutherland, probably means that the relationship was more distant, or if the same, that the Laird of Cambusavie was illegitimate.
  3. ^ a b Outhit, Jeff (15 October 2016). "A Titanic feat: the Guelph girls who conquered the world". TheRecord.com.
  4. ^ "'Rescuing a complicated story from silence': the Willcocks brothers, Joseph and Richard". 28 February 2013.
  5. ^ Henderson, Michael. "Traitor and Knight". Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  6. ^ https://wcma.pastperfectonline.com/archive/45847070-1DE7-4124-896E-577334953500 Wellington County Archives: Saunders Family Papers
  7. ^ Contrary to this source, Lucy and Lady Duff-Gordon are one and the same. Retrieved and checked 15 March 2009.
  8. ^ Glyn, Anthony, Elinor Glyn: A Biography (Hutchinson, London, 1955), p. 35.
  9. ^ Online literature: Elinor Glyn (cited above), gives further details.
  10. ^ Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th Edition, Volume 1. Burke's (Genealogical Books) Ltd. 1999. p. 1161. ISBN 2-940085-02-1.Family history of Glyn Baronets. His wife is simply described as: "Elinor (d[ied] 23 Sep[tember] 1943), y[ounge]r dau[ghter] of Douglas Sutherland, of Toronto."
  11. ^ Lady Angela Forbes, Memories and Base Details (1921), p. 79
  12. ^ Online literature: Elinor Glyn (cited above), gives further details of the reception of the book.
  13. ^ "Historic People: Montacute's Tigress: Elinor Glyn" BBC, 11 February 2009, describes their affair as an eight-year-long one that collapsed circa 1915–16, and ended with her discovery of his engagement to marry a second time. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
  14. ^ Jssgallery.org Archived 12 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. 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.
  15. ^ "When the Five O'Clock Whistle Blows in Hollywood". Vanity Fair. September 1922. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  16. ^ Elinor Glyn (1927) "It", Paramount Pictures
  17. ^ Horak, Laura (2010). ""Would you like to sin with Elinor Glyn?" Film as a Vehicle of Sensual Education". Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies. 25 (2): 75–117. doi:10.1215/02705346-2010-003. ISSN 0270-5346.
  18. ^ Barnett, Vincent L., & Alexis Weedon (2014). Elinor Glyn as Novelist, Movie-maker, Glamour Icon and Businesswoman. Ashgate. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-4724-2182-1.
  19. ^ a b c "Elinor Glynn Facts". biography.yourdictionary.com. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  20. ^ Weedon, Alexis, "Elinor Glyn's System of Writing", Publishing History, vol. 60, pp. 31–50, 2006.
  21. ^ Bloom, Clive (2008). Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 175–176. ISBN 978-0-230-53688-3.
  22. ^ Elinor Glyn (1927) "It", Macaulay Co., New York "It" in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  23. ^ Elinor Glyn (1907) Three Weeks, Duffield & Co., New York Three Weeks in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  24. ^ Elinor Glyn (1922) Beyond the Rocks, Macaulay Co., New York Beyond the Rocks in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  25. ^ a b c d "Elinor Glyn Biography". imdb.com. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  26. ^ Barnett, Vincent L., "Picturization partners: Elinor Glyn and the Thalberg contract affair", Film History, vol. 19, no. 3, 2007.
  27. ^ Barnett & Weedon (2014). Elinor Glyn as Novelist, Movie-maker, Glamour Icon and Businesswoman. pp. 42, 89.
  28. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 22. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 510. ISBN 0-19-861372-5.
  29. ^ Elinor Glyn at Find a Grave, depicting her memorial plaque at the crematorium.
  30. ^ "Death Announcements (D to G), London Times", p. 3 (Archived 26 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine). Retrieved 15 March 2009.
  31. ^ "Books: Love & Sin on a Tiger Skin". TIME. 11 July 1955. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  32. ^ G. Chowdharay-Best. [sic: G. Chowdhury-Best]. "Anthony Glyn" (obituary), The Independent (as archived in findarticles.com), 10 February 1998.
  33. ^ Sarah Lyall. "Sir Anthony Glyn, 75, Author Known for Spirit and Diversity", New York Times, 28 January 1998.
  34. ^ Papers of Juliet Rhys-Williams, British Library of Political and Economic Science. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
  35. ^ Burke's Peerage: Rhys-Williams. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
  36. ^ Glyn, Elinor (1922), Man and Maid, Philadelphia: Lippincott, p. 125 Man and Maid in libraries (WorldCat catalog).
  37. ^ Perelman, S. J. (1949), Listen to the Mocking Bird, pp. 70–78, London: Reinhardt and Evans Listen to the Mocking Bird in libraries (WorldCat catalog).

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