A Publishers Weekly Summer Reads Selection
The modern romance novel is elevated to a subject of serious study in this addictively readable biography of pioneering celebrity author Elinor Glyn.
Unlike typical romances, which end with wedding bells, Elinor Glyn’s (1864–1943) story really began after her marriage up the social ladder and into the English gentry class in 1892. Born in the Channel Islands, Elinor Sutherland, like most Victorian women, aspired only to a good match. But when her husband, Clayton Glyn, gambled their fortune away, she turned to her pen and boldly challenged the era’s sexually straightjacketed literary code with her notorious succes de scandale, Three Weeks (1907). An intensely erotic tale about an unhappily married woman’s sexual education of her young lover, the novel got Glyn banished from high society but went on to sell millions, revealing a deep yearning for a fuller account of sexual passion than permitted by the British aristocracy or the Anglo-American literary establishment.
In elegant prose, Hilary A. Hallett traces Glyn’s meteoric rise from a depressed society darling to a world-renowned celebrity author who consorted with world leaders from St. Petersburg to Cairo to New York. After reporting from the trenches during World War I, the author was lured by American movie producers from Paris to Los Angeles for her remarkable third act. Weaving together years of deep archival research, Hallett movingly conveys how Glyn, more than any other individual during the Roaring Twenties, crafted early Hollywood’s glamorous romantic aesthetic. She taught the screen’s greatest leading men to make love in ways that set audiences aflame, and coined the term “It Girl,” which turned actress Clara Bow into the symbol of the first sexual revolution.
With Inventing the It Girl, Hallett has done nothing less than elevate the origins of the modern romance genre to a subject of serious study. In doing so, she has also reclaimed the enormous influence of one of Anglo-America’s most significant cultural tastemakers while revealing Glyn’s life to have been as sensational as any of the characters she created on the page or screen. The result is a groundbreaking portrait of a courageous icon of independence who encouraged future generations to chase their desires wherever they might lead.
Hallett (Go West, Young Women!), a history professor at Columbia University, delivers a page-turning account of the life of Elinor Glyn (1864 1943), a once prominent writer who has been largely lost to history. Glyn spent the first part of her life around the upper classes of late Victorian and Edwardian English society. She married up, cavorted with duchesses, and traveled through Europe and Egypt. By the turn of the 20th century, however, after learning of her family's mounting debts, she "leaned harder on her pen" and "sought her fortune" in romance novels. She pioneered steamy fiction in a time of heavy censorship, and was known for the "Tiger Queen'' heroine she "created and imitated" and was named after an "infamous sex scene on a tiger skin." In the 1920s, Glyn moved to Hollywood, where she honed the idea of "It" or extraordinary sex appeal, and catapulted actor Clara Bow to "It girl" fame with the film It. Hallett is equally at home chronicling the contours of Glyn's life, decaying English aristocracy, and the glamour of Hollywood, easily conjuring her subject and the events and cultural shifts that shaped her. This one brings the goods. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME.