HAVE YOU GOT IT? Elinor Glyn the Quintessential Edwardian Dandizette
By Tyne O’Connell, “A modern day Elinor Glyn” The Daily Telegraph, UK
What is IT – this subtle magnetic quality that makes you want to look at someone even when you wish you could stop. Do you have IT? Or if not, can you acquire IT?
Elinor Glyn was born on 17th October in 1864 in Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is difficult to describe the enormous scale of her success as best-selling author, scriptwriter film director, columnist and international personalty and public speaker. In the words of Mark Twain: “She has come to us upon the storm wind of a vast and sudden notoriety.
Her career spanned almost seventy years while fascinated her public with her concept of IT. The Hollywood Magazine Photoplay remarked that, Elinor Glyn had managed to “transform this unobtrusive pronoun into a world- discussed noun.” She offered varied definitions of the meaning of IT in hundreds of interviews and lectures from the podium atop her giant tiger skin. However she was firm on one point, objecting fiercely to IT being defined as a wink-wink euphemism for “sex appeal.”One thing is certain: Elinor Glyn had IT, Audrey Hepburn had IT, Margaret Thatcher had IT, Michael Gambon has IT, Judy Dench has IT, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great & Marilyn Monroe had IT. Great leaders in history, successful Actors and Politicians all need IT. But what is IT and more importantly have you got IT and can one acquire it? For while IT is not essential in the make up of the dandizette, all the great ones had and have IT.
Elinor Glyn, aristocratic authority on the ‘IT’ factor
According to Elinor Glyn in her foreword to IT, and Other Stories (1927) “To have “IT”, the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes. He or she must be entirely unselfconscious and full of self-confidence, indifferent to the effect he or she is producing, and uninfluenced by others. There must be physical attraction, but beauty is unnecessary.”
We have all met someone – man or woman – be they attractive or not – who have that magnetic quality that compels you to look and think of them. Part of our fascination in them is wrapped up in their own indifference to whether you like them or not. For in being unbiddable they arouse in us a respect albeit grudging and a need albeit unmet to have them do our bidding.
I think of IT as allure compared to the artifice of mere wiles. One is born with allure. However, if you have allure you will be unaware of at at least while young and it is unlikely anyone else will tell you that you have allure and even if someone does allude your allure to you, you probably won’t believe them. If you, like most people don’t have allure you may employ wiles. Wiles unlike Allure can be acquired. The problem with wiles is that should others recognise you working your wiles the temple veil will be torn.
By 1927 Elinor had written more than 25 novels about courtship and numerous interviews in magazines and newspapers including a monthly series of articles. Elinor Glyn developed wrote and held forth on her own “Philosophy of Love” building herself into The Sexual Brand of the early 20th century. She described her self as “The High Priestess of the God of Love”
Her philosophy of love, superimposed Victorian prudery over sex, celebrating aristocratic manners and deploring the cheapening of sexualrelations through the commodification of capitalism. Elinor believed that sexual tensions between men and women were heightened through restraint and the codified rituals and restricted contact of old fashioned manners. She said in one interview that the younger generation were “dulling their senses with the promiscuous familiarity of pawing each other”
She celebrated women’s physical and emotional satisfaction along with fantasy and sensuality. She asserted that one can be a slave to love without losing one’s emancipation. She believed profoundly that “no union can be perfect without equal capacity for physical satis- faction in both man and woman.”
She went to far as to hint that intelligent good looking children were the result of a fabulous orgasm. Her philosophy of love sought to transform love-making between men and women from “the mere animal instinct for species-preservation, with all the beauties of the imagination.”
Vitally she promoted the idea of the sexual wisdom and authority of the middle aged lady, in other words, herself. When she was forty-three (and therefore a sexually wise authority on such things) she described the key methods for achieving this spiritual physical transcendency in her massive best selling book, Three Weeks which was published in 1907. By 1933 it had sold more than 5 millions copies and it was just one of her 25 bestselling novels – all promoting and branding her sexual philosophy of love.
Elinor Glyn in Hollywood
Her popularity as an authority on sexuality, led to Hollywood recruiting her into its massive production machine where she participated in the production of eleven blockbuster films promoting her sexual agenda with stars such as Clara Bow, Gary Cooper and Valentino in starring roles.
She used her international popularity as an author and her branding genius to lever unprecedented profit sharing and artistic control from studios. She promoted herself as a sexual brand to a degree that modern stars and celebrities such as the Kardashians can only dream of – all without cheapening her brand with sex tapes or loss of privacy.
In promoting herself as a sexual brand she was ahead of the times and yet she had the cache of Simone De Beauvoiur and the panache of Diana Vreeland. She continued to promote herself as an icon of sexual authority well into her fifties and sixties giving interviews throned from a tiger skin rug which featured in her book Three Weeks. She even dyed her hair Titian red and used makeup to accentuate the feline character of her brilliant greeneyes. Mark Twain described her as “a woman with milk-white skin, tawny red hair & green eyes; her gown a sea-green soft silk & she wore a strange oriental chain, as her only ornament.”
Elinor maintained her authority by maintaining her personae as middle-aged, upper-class, British woman. She was fifty-six years old and a widow when she first arrived in Hollywood. Even while atop her tiger skin throne during interviews, she emphasised her British propriety by serving tea at all her interviews.
Journalists observed she was more sybarite than vamp. “There is much of the conventional Englishwoman about her,” they told their readers – In this way reassuring them that “any grandchildren she may have will find her a remarkable, distinguished, entirely charming grand-mamma of the utmost propriety.”
For while her aristocratic knowledge reassured her fans that romance was derived from courtly high culture not dirty minds she also had another secret weapon which I believe was key to her genius and that was her ability to get inside the male mind. I believe this was her true secret weapon. Her characters lay bare male fantasies.
Mark Twain and Elinor Glyn
Mark Twain said to her in an interview with Elinor Glyn in 1908 “I think you have written a very fine book, and there are a very few women who have the brain, or the logic, or the grasp of human nature, or the scientific deduction, to have enabled them to do it.”
Mark Twain defended Elinor Glyn against charges by the American public that she had written an immoral book in Three Weeks. f the characters in Elinor Glyn’s book Three Weeks “They recognize that they were highly and holily created for each other and that their passion is a sacred thing, that it is the master by divine right and that its commands must be obeyed. They get to obeying them at once and they keep on obeying them and obeying them, to the reader’s intense delight and disapproval, and the process of obeying them is described, several times, almost exhaustively, but not quite – some little rag of it being left to the reader’s imagination, just at the end of each infraction, the place where his imagination is to take up and do the finish being indicated by stars [****]”
Twain recalls: “Some days afterward I met her again for a moment and she gave me the startling information that she had written down every word I had said, just as I had said it, without any softening and purifying modifications, and that it was “just splendid, just wonderful,” She said she had sent it to her husband in England. Privately I didn’t think that that was a very good idea, and yet I believed it would interest him. “
The Elinor Glyn midas touch remains arguably unparalleled. All her films were massive hits, all her books best sellers. And yet Elinor Glyn utterly deplored the cheapening of sexual relations through the commodification of capitalism
In a 1921 Los Angeles Times interview, she protested that “man is dominated today by the gluttonous science of making money. Love and the soul of woman lies crushed and bleeding in ‘no man’s land.’
Elinor Glyn was a splendid Dandizette urging women to take up charms against an age of materialism and seek transcendence in love. In her Autobiography of 1936 she explained, “I wanted to stir up in the cold hearts of the thousands of little fluffy, gold-digging American girls a desire for greater joys in love than are to be found in candy-boxes and car rides and fur coats.” It is a classic Dandizette call to charms! Urging the gold digging girls to turn their backs on materialism and embrace the philosophy of love – The Quintessential Elegant Feminist, magnificently throned on a tiger skin rug.
Elinor Glyn, 1864 – 1943, Dandizette.