Friday, November 16, 2018

The Visits of Elizabeth

The Visits of Elizabeth / Elinor Glyn (1900)
read via Open Library

Elinor Glyn, known for her racy erotic (for the early 1900s) novels, and for her coining of the term "It" for sex appeal, wrote many novels and spent time working in Hollywood. But, I am more interested in the fact that she was the sister of Lady Duff Gordon, Lucile of London, a fashion designer -- and that they had a Canadian mother and spent some of their formative years in Guelph, Ontario. 

In any case, I thought it was high time to read one of her novels so have started with her first, The Visits of Elizabeth, published in 1900. This has extra appeal for me as it is an epistolary novel, a favourite style of mine -- it's told in one-sided letters from the young, disingenous Elizabeth to her mother, as she travels from relative to relative to visit great homes and meet important people (the reader can see that her mother is trying to marry her off to someone rich, even if Elizabeth seems too naive to understand this immediately).

Elizabeth makes unintended double entendres that scandalize some people and entertain others, and never sees the significance of her remarks or of many that others make to or around her. And when she is kissed early on by a handsome Earl who mistakes her candour for knowledge of the world, he receives a slap and a frosty reception for much of the rest of the book.

This naivet√© in the face of the upper class circles she's moving in is at first quite funny. The joke does carry on rather, though, and a reader begins to think that Elizabeth really might be starting to clue in by the end of the book. However, the upbringing of an innocent girl at the turn of the century might explain a lot -- and add in Elinor Glyn's racy humour and it makes sense. 

Elizabeth goes first to friends and family in England, then makes a jaunt to France - this part isn't quite as sparkling, but it was intriguing to see how French rich families interacted in their great homes as opposed to the English ones that I know much better from all my reading of Victorian, Edwardian and mid-century writing! 

She does meet a number of eligible men, though it's clear which one is likely to be successful pretty early on. And her innocent reportage allows for many foibles of both young and old to be exposed in a way that isn't too cruelly satiric or tiresome for the reader, rather it's almost always amusing (and sometimes poignant). 
Elinor Glyn

If you'd like to encounter Elinor Glyn in a story that isn't yet as overheated as some of her later, most popular reads are said to be, this is a light, frothy, satisfyingly predictable story that I found amusing and charming. Long live letters! 

3 comments:

  1. I've yet to read Mrs Glyn, but not for lack of trying. For years, I've been looking for her books in used bookstores, flea markets, church rummage sales... and I haven't found a thing. Could it be that they were considered too scandalous to leave the house, except in the garbage?

    During a visit five or so years back, I was pleased to see that the Guelph Civil Museum has a corner devoted to the author. We were there for an exhibit titled "Waist Management: A History of Unmentionables." I think Mrs Glyn would've enjoyed it.

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    1. Come to think of it, I've never seen a hard copy of any of her books either....hmmm!

      That exhibit sounds intriguing - yes, both sisters would have enjoyed that one. If I'm ever in Guelph I'll have to check out the Civil Museum to see what is there.

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    2. Apologies, that should've read "Civic Museum." If interested, you'll find a photo of the Glyn corner in this old post:

      Guelph: City of Gay, Galt, Glyn, Graves and Girdles.

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