Elinor Glyn: British novelist and scriptwriter (1864 - 1943) | Biography
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Elinor Glyn
British novelist and scriptwriter

Elinor Glyn

Elinor Glyn
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British novelist and scriptwriter
Known for Beyond the Rocks, Three Weeks
A.K.A. Elinor Sutherland
Was Actor Writer Novelist Screenwriter Film director
From United Kingdom
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature
Gender female
Birth 17 October 1864, Saint Helier, Jersey
Death 23 September 1943, London, England, UK (aged 78 years)
Star sign Libra
Residence Jersey
Father: Douglas Sutherland
Siblings: Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon
Spouse: Clayton Louis Glyn (27 April 1892-)
Children: Margot Elinor GlynJuliet Rhys-Williams
Notable Works
Beyond the Rocks  
Three Weeks  
The details (from wikipedia)


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.

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. 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. 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 to 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.

The family lived in Guelph for seven years at a stone home that still stands near the University of Guelph. Glyn's mother remarried in 1871 to David Kennedy, and the family returned to Jersey when Glyn was about eight years old. Her subsequent education at her stepfather's house was by governesses. Glyn's elder sister grew up to be Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, famous as a fashion designer under the name Lucile.

Marriage and career

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. 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, serialised in The World, 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. 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 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 her junior Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duke of Roxburghe, and it scandalized Edwardian society.

Circa 1907, Glyn toured the United States, resulting in Elizabeth visits America (1909).

Glyn had a long affair between circa 1907 and 1916 with Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India. Society painter Philip de László painted her in 1912, at the age of 48. Curzon is presumed to have commissioned it and had given her the sapphires she wears in the portrait. In 1915, Curzon leased Montacute House, in South Somerset, for him and Glyn, and asked her to decorate it. (Her husband died that autumn, aged 58, after several years of illness.) With Glyn away from London, Curzon courted heiress Grace Duggan. When Glyn learned of their engagement while reading the morning papers, she burnt their 500 love letters in the bedroom fireplace and never spoke to Curzon again.

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, in her novel The Man and the Moment (1914), 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." Her use of the word is often erroneously taken to be a euphemism for sexuality or sex appeal.

During World War I, Glyn became a war correspondent, working in France. On 28 June 1919, at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Glyn was one of only two women present.

Widowhood and career

Jack CooganNazimovaGloria SwansonHollywood BoulevardPicture taken in 1907 of this junctionHarold LloydWill RogersElinor Glyn"Buster" KeatonBill HartRupert HughesFatty ArbuckleWallace ReidDouglas FairbanksBebe DanielsBull MontanaRex IngramPeter the hermitCharlie ChaplinAlice TerryMary PickfordWilliam C. deMilleCecil B. DeMilleUse button to enlarge or cursor to investigate
This 1922 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.

After the death of her husband, Glyn went to Hollywood, for the filming of her novel, The Great Moment.

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. She was brought over from England to write screenplays by the Famous Players-Lasky Production Company. 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.

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". Glyn was the celebrated author of such early 20th-century bestsellers as "It", Three Weeks, Beyond the Rocks 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.

She is credited 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.


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. Her first script was called The Great Moment and starred Gloria Swanson.

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. 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. In 1930 she wrote her first non-silent film, Such Men Are Dangerous, her last screenplay in the United States.

Elinor Glyn Ltd

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. 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.

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.


After a short illness, Glyn died on 23 September 1943, at 39 Royal Avenue, Chelsea, London, aged 78, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. Her ashes lie above the door to the Jewish Shrine at the west end of the columbarium. She was survived by two daughters, Margot and Juliet.


  • 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 Leo Simon 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. In 1946, he married his first cousin, Susan Rhys-Williams, daughter of Sir Rhys Rhys-Williams Bt. They had two daughters, Victoria and Caroline. 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. 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)
    • 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

  • 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?
  • 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", which Glyn published.
  • 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".
  • 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."
  • In the 1925 film Stella Dallas, at around 1 hour and 2 minutes into the film, the following title appears: "For a woman with all her money she's got rotten taste in books. And me dying for Elinor Glyn's latest!"
  • In S. J. Perelman's series of pieces Cloudland Revisited, as a middle-aged man, he re-reads and describes the risqué novels that had thrilled him as a youth. The essay "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".
  • The Sigmund Romberg comic song "It" with lyrics by Edward Smith is featured in his popular operetta The Desert Song (1926).
  • Glyn is also mentioned 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 made cameo appearances as herself in the 1927 film It and in the 1928 film Show People.
  • In Dorothy L. Sayers' Unnatural death (1927), a woman is described:
"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 Stanley Donen's 1954 biopic about Romberg, Deep in My Heart, the musical number "It" from the Artists and Models (revue) segment features 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 film 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.
  • In Chapter 2 of The Women by Hilton Als (1996), which discusses Dorothy Dean, Als juxtaposes Dean with Glyn. Als writes, "This perceived antagonism with heterosexual men provided Dean with the resistance she needed to argue against her conventional fantasy of being someone's girlfriend, someone's Lady Glyn."

Selected writings

Elinor Glyn
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)
Story collections
  • 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 volumes 1,2,3,4 (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)


  • Three Weeks [it], directed by Perry N. Vekroff (1914, based on the novel Three Weeks)
  • One Day, directed by Hal Clarendon (1916, based on the novel One Day)
  • One Hour, directed by Edwin L. Hollywood and Paul McAllister (1917, sequel to the novel Three Weeks)
  • Három het, directed by Márton Garas (Hungary, 1917, based on the novel Three Weeks)
  • The Reason Why [it], directed by Robert G. Vignola (1918, based on the novel The Reason Why)
  • The Man and the Moment, directed by Arrigo Bocchi (UK, 1918, based on the novel The Man and the Moment)
  • A Sphynx, directed by Béla Balogh (Hungary, 1918, based on the novel When the Hour Came)
  • The Career of Katherine Bush, directed by Roy William Neill (1919, based on the novel The Career of Katherine Bush)
  • Halcyone, directed by Alfréd Deésy (Hungary, 1919, based on the novel Halcyone)
  • Érdekházasság, directed by Antal Forgács (Hungary, 1919, based on the novel The Reason Why)
  • Beyond the Rocks, directed by Sam Wood (1922, based on the novel Beyond the Rocks)
  • Six Days, directed by Charles Brabin (1923, based on the novel Six Days)
  • Three Weeks, directed by Alan Crosland (1924, based on the novel Three Weeks)
  • His Hour, directed by King Vidor (1924, based on the novel When the Hour Came)
  • Man and Maid, directed by Victor Schertzinger (1925, based on the novel Man and Maid)
  • Soul Mates, directed by Jack Conway (1925, based on the novel The Reason Why)
  • Love's Blindness, directed by John Francis Dillon (1926, based on the novel Love's Blindness)
  • It, directed by Clarence G. Badger (1927, based on the novella It)
  • Mad Hour, directed by Joseph Boyle (1928, based on the novel The Man and the Moment)
  • Red Hair, directed by Clarence G. Badger (1928, based on the novel The Vicissitudes of Evangeline)
  • The Man and the Moment, directed by George Fitzmaurice (1929, based on the novel The Man and the Moment)
  • Knowing Men, directed by Elinor Glyn (UK, 1930, based on the novel Knowing Men)
  • The Price of Things, directed by Elinor Glyn (UK, 1930, based on the novel The Price of Things)



  • Knowing Men (UK, 1930)
  • The Price of Things (UK, 1930)
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 23 Jan 2023. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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