Vincent L. Barnett and Alexis Weedon. Elinor Glyn as Novelist, Moviemaker, Glamour Icon and Business Woman. Farnham, UK & Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. x, 238p., ill. ISBN 9781472421821. £60 (hardback).
Vincent L. Barnett and Alexis Weedon provide the first full-length, scholarly examination of the professional life of the internationally renowned British writer and early Hollywood personality, Elinor Glyn (1864–1943). Although few recall the name today, the authors ably indicate that a serious study of Glyn – whom they call “a pioneer of a new mode of professional authorship” (3) – is long overdue.
The publication of her first novel, The Visits of Elizabeth (1900), made Glyn a ‘best-seller’ in the UK and the US as well as the British Society’s leading novelist. Her sixth novel, Three Weeks (1907), provoked an enormous outcry from Anglo-American critics for telling the tale of an older, mysterious, married Balkan Queen’s seduction of an aristocratic English youth in a manner that seemed to sanction the principles of free love. Glyn turned this censure to her professional advantage, crafting a persona as a glamorous ‘authoress’ who offered the public advice on modern romance, sex roles and sexuality through her fiction, non-fiction and extensive journalistic work. Her success in this part eventually brought her to Hollywood in 1920. As Barnett and Weedon amply demonstrate, once ensconced in Los Angeles, Glyn took “cooperative involvement in the film industry further than any other literary figure of the era, both personally as an individual ‘star’ author and cross-media celebrity, and professionally as part of a wider group of family collaborators” whom the authors call “Team Glyn” (3). During the 1920s, Glyn intimately oversaw what she called the “picturization” of her stories, including her most successful story-to-film adaptation, It (Paramount, 1927), starring Clara Bow. The authors conclude with Glyn’s return to Britain in 1929 to direct two motion pictures whose commercial failure ended her long-sought desire to attain complete control over the process of translating her ideas into film.
Glyn’s career allows Barnett and Weedon to offer insight into the emergence of many of the practices that attend commercially successful authorship in the twentieth century. Their careful work in Glyn’s archive at Reading University uncovers her role in forging or perfecting this process through her development of a personal brand (in today’s parlance), embrace of cross-media promotion, and efforts to control the shepherding of literary works across national boundaries and into different media forms. Their contention that Glyn’s remarkable success and influence – she helped to spawn the modern romance genre after all – was derided or ignored until late because of literary scholars’ discomfort with ‘low-brow’ popular writers and feminist critics’ concern over her interest in fashion and (alleged) espousal of reactionary sex roles seems well-founded and is supported by recent articles that examine Glyn’s ideas about sexuality in more depth.
One wishes at times that the authors ventured a bit further afield from recounting the intricacies and details of Glyn’s many contractual negotiations in order to assay broader interpretive claims. The tendency to draw lightly upon film, women’s, and cultural history compounds the authors’ drift toward raising as many questions as they answer. In the end, the reader is left to wonder why Glyn’s stature was so much greater in the US than in the UK, how much she managed to shift ideas about sex and in what particular directions, and whether gendered assumptions blinkered the decisions of “Team Glyn” as much or more than the film producers with whom she worked. But intriguing further questions are, after all, one of the best things that a first effort about an under-studied important figure can prompt.
Hilary A. Hallett
Columbia University, New York