Elinor Glyn’s Novel Shocks Readers Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The publication of Three Weeks, Elinor Glyn’s story of an extramarital, child-producing love affair between a young English nobleman and a Balkan queen, was a scandal. Even as it shocked readers and faced censors, the novel nevertheless became a best seller and film. It introduced women’s erotic fiction, or the romantic novel, to mass-market Western literature.

Summary of Event

Elinor Glyn was born into a distinguished British family and experienced as a young woman the cosmopolitan societies of Paris and London. After her family ran short of funds, she married Clayton Glyn, a supposedly wealthy landowner. Elinor soon found that her husband was living on borrowed funds. Moreover, he was not the romantic hero Elinor had expected him to be. By the time their second daughter was born in 1898, the marriage was collapsing. Bored with her life and desperate for money, Glyn began to write articles about her social set. She then transformed her early Diaries;Elinor Glyn[Glyn] diaries and letters into the novel The Visits of Elizabeth (1900). The book was a critical and popular success. Four more novels followed, including the scandalous Three Weeks (1907). [kw]Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers, Elinor (1907) [kw]Three Weeks Shocks Readers, Elinor Glyn’s Novel (1907) Glyn, Elinor Three Weeks (Glyn) Glyn, Elinor Three Weeks (Glyn) [g]Europe;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [g]England;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [g]United States;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Literature;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Law and the courts;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Publishing and journalism;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Royalty;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Sex;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Public morals;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] [c]Women’s issues;1907: Elinor Glyn’s Novel Three Weeks Shocks Readers[00090] Curzon, George Nathaniel Milner, Alfred

Elinor Glyn.

(Library of Congress)

Three Weeks, Glyn’s sixth novel, is the story of a handsome young Englishman, Paul Verdayne, who is sent abroad after being caught kissing the parson’s daughter. At his hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland, he notices a black-haired woman in her thirties, whose white face reminds him of a magnolia. The woman he calls the Lady invites him into her flower-filled apartment, where she drapes herself seductively on a couch covered with a tiger skin. The next day Paul buys her a tiger skin, and that night, their honeymoon begins. Paul soon finds out that she is a Balkan queen and has an abusive husband. The lovers proceed to Venice, Italy, but learn that they are being followed. One morning, Paul awakens to find his Lady gone. Some time later, he receives a note informing him that she has given birth to their son. Paul then learns that the Lady’s husband has killed her. Five years later, he finally sees his son, and his grief vanishes.

In Three Weeks, Glyn abandoned her detached tone in favor of passion—adulterous passion. Three Weeks reflected a dramatic change in her own attitude toward extramarital relationships. By 1903, when she met the powerful statesman Alfred Milner, she no longer felt compelled to remain faithful to her husband. However, Milner was too busy to let their relationship become anything more than a close friendship. Interestingly, it was in a letter to Milner written in 1906 that Glyn first mentioned another statesman, George Nathaniel Curzon. Curzon would be the love of Glyn’s life.

The model for the hero of Three Weeks was a young guards officer, Lord Alastair Innes-Ker, with whom Glyn had been involved as well. She incorporated into her tale two places she had visited, likely Lucerne and Venice, and included mention of the tiger skin she had bought in Lucerne. The story she invented was so clear in Glyn’s mind that after she returned home to Essex, it took her only six weeks to finish the novel.

Glyn was warned by many of her friends that if Three Weeks was published, she would be shunned by society. However, Milner liked the novel and did not anticipate trouble. He was wrong. When Three Weeks appeared in June, 1907, all who read it did so privately; in public, however, they voiced their disapproval of the novel. Reviewers condemned it as glorifying adultery. Glyn’s friends crossed her off their lists. Edward Lyttelton, the headmaster of Eton College, banned the book and refused to lift the ban even after he had read and enjoyed the copy Glyn sent him. Also, Glyn would be haunted by the following verse, composed by a critic:

Would you like to sin With Elinor Glyn On a tiger-skin? Or would you prefer To err With her On some other fur?

Neither condemnation nor mockery could prevent Three Weeks from becoming a commercial success, however. According to the author’s best estimate, by 1933 it had sold more than five million copies.

Three Weeks first faced censorship in the United States. In 1908, Boston’s Watch and Ward Society Watch and Ward Society asked booksellers to not sell the book. At the request of Duffield, the novel’s New York publisher, Joseph E. Buckley sold a copy to an inspector with the Boston police. The result was an important U.S. legal case, Commonwealth v. Buckley (1909) Commonwealth v. Buckley (1909), in which a jury called the book obscene; Buckley was fined one hundred dollars. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the decision, arguing that words such as “obscene” did not have to be defined for a jury. In 1916, a British judge dismissed Glyn’s suit against the company that had made the 1915 comic film Pimple’s Three Weeks (Without the Option), which was based on Glyn’s novel. The judge insisted that Glyn’s book was too indecent to deserve copyright protection (Glyn v. Weston Feature Film Co., 1916).

Nevertheless, in the United States, Three Weeks became a best seller. After being assured that she would find herself treated far better in the United States than in England, Glyn traveled to New York, where she was entertained by socialites, warmly welcomed by U.S. president Roosevelt, Theodore Theodore Roosevelt, and praised for her writing by the eminent author Mark Twain. In Rawhide, Nevada, a group of miners gave a banquet in her honor, presenting her a small gun as a token of their respect for her courage.

Back in England, after having already written a dramatic version of Three Weeks, Glyn put on a charity matinee, which, as she had hoped, led to a contract for a West End production. However, the proposal was turned down by politician Neville Chamberlain, evidently because the British Foreign Office did not want to offend Russia. Two years later, Glyn was kidnapped Kidnapping;of Elinor Glyn[Glyn] in Warsaw, Poland, but was rescued shortly after. She always suspected that her references to Russian royalty in Three Weeks had come too close to the truth.

In 1920, Glyn was invited by Hollywood to develop her novels into screenplays. She had to alter her story considerably to pass censors, but the film, Three Weeks: The Romance of a Queen (1924), became a box-office success in the United States. However, in England, Chamberlain’s office made extensive cuts and also eliminated the title Three Weeks. The film was shown in Britain as The Romance of a Queen (1924).

Impact

The publication of Three Weeks changed Glyn’s life forever. Although unwelcome in some segments of English society, she became recognized as a professional author. Though the scandal associated with Three Weeks made it impossible for Glyn and Curzon to marry, Glyn recovered from their breakup and moved on to an exciting career in Hollywood. She returned to England financially secure and eventually was welcomed back into the society that had shunned her.

The court action in Massachusetts strengthened the power of the Watch and Ward Society, which was able, for the next ten years, to keep many fictional works out of state. Elsewhere, however, booksellers and publishers could not deny that this supposedly obscene novel had racked up millions of sales. Clearly there was money to be made from novels that were branded as shocking.

Moreover, Glyn’s torrid novel and the romances she wrote later were especially appealing to members of a rapidly developing group of readers, middle-class and working-class women who yearned for romance but also were tired of being controlled by their husbands. They were drawn to strong, self-sufficient heroines such as those of Glyn’s novels, who not only inspired men but also controlled them, just as the Lady controlled Paul in Three Weeks. In its outspoken descriptions of sexual passion, Three Weeks anticipated the distaste for hypocrisy that followed World War I, but there were also hints of the kind of feminism that would not come into its own for another half century. Glyn, Elinor Three Weeks (Glyn)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boyer, Paul S. Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. The chapter “Vice Societies in the Progressive Era” discusses the successful efforts of the New England Watch and Ward Society to ban Three Weeks.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Etherington-Smith, Meredith, and Jeremy Pilcher. The “It” Girls: Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, the Couturière “Lucile,” and Elinor Glyn, Romantic Novelist. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. A study of Glyn and her equally successful sister, Lucy. Appendixes include lists of books and screenplays by Elinor Glyn. Illustrated. Bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glyn, Anthony. Elinor Glyn: A Biography. London: Hutchinson, 1955. An account of Elinor Glyn’s life by her grandson. Includes an explanation of how Three Weeks came to be written and suggestions as to why it became so popular. Includes a detailed plot summary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glyn, Elinor. Three Weeks. 1907. New ed. London: Duckworth, 1974. In his introduction to this new edition, society photographer Cecil Beaton summarizes Glyn’s life and recalls their meeting each other. A good starting point.

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