Elinor Glyn in Tauchnitz Editions
Elinor Glyn was not a typical Tauchnitz author. Her work had few literary pretensions. and she wrote light frothy romantic fiction. But what she did have was sex. Not of course anything very explicit – this was in the early twentieth century when Victorian attitudes still prevailed, but even underlying hints of sexual activity could be enough to excite readers in those times.
Her first work published in Tauchnitz created something of a literary sensation, becoming the sixth bestselling novel of 1901. ‘The visits of Elizabeth’ recorded the letters home of a naive young lady on a series of visits around the homes of relatives and friends. She sees a lot of goings-on, to which she is happy in her charming way, to assign the most innocent of explanations. The work appeared as volume 3504 of the Tauchnitz series and the first printing was dated June 1901 on the wrappers. For bound editions, the first printing should show no other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title.
So successful was it that it attracted imitators. Just four months later, as volume 3528, dated October 1901, Tauchnitz published ‘The letters of her mother to Elizabeth’. The book was published anonymously, but was by W.R.H. Trowbridge (a pseudonym for William Rutherford Hayes) and filled in the letters in the other direction that came between Elizabeth’s letters.
Not surprisingly, Elinor Glyn was less than impressed by this. In her next work to appear in the series, ‘The reflections of Ambrosine’ (vol. 3636), she is at pains to emphasis that she had not written either the Trowbridge book or another anonymous work. She was right to be concerned about this. Even today, over a hundred years later, various internet sources cite Elinor Glyn as the author of ‘The letters of her mother to Elizabeth’.
‘The reflections of Ambrosine’ is not written in letters, but is a similar style of first person narrative from a young woman, relating the goings-on in high society. The first printing in Tauchnitz is dated February 1903 on paperback copies, or on bound copies, should list just the one previous title by Glyn on the back of the half-title. It was followed by ‘The vicissitudes of Evangeline’ (vol. 3805, dated April 1905 and listing the two previous works on the back of the half-title) and by ‘Beyond the Rocks’ (vol. 3892, dated June 1906 and listing three previous works).
The next to come was ‘Three weeks’, published in July 1907 as volume 3978, and perhaps the work that more than any other, established Glyn’s name and reputation. It told the story of a three week affair between a young British aristocrat and a much older woman who turns out to be a mysterious foreign Queen. Their romps on a tiger skin led to the popular 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’.
Suggestions that the book was based on an affair that Glyn herself had with a much younger man (Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duxe of Roxburghe), would have done nothing to harm the sales of it. And it does seem to have sold well, with regular reprints and a continuing demand for new works.
Glyn was happy to oblige, coming back next to her first character, Elizabeth, and the same format of letters written home to her mother. ‘Elizabeth visits America’ (vol. 4124, dated June 1909 and listing five previous works) is much the same kind of thing, although Elizabeth is now older, married and a little less naive.
In the meantime, Glyn was herself pursuing another affair, with Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India and then Chancellor of Oxford University. To maintain this affair, cover her husband’s debts and keep up her standard of living, she had to keep writing. Five more works followed in the years running up to the first World War – ‘His hour’ (vol. 4230, December 1910), ‘The reason why’ (vol. 4305, January 1912), ‘Halcyone’ (vol. 4367, October 1912), ‘The Contrast (vol. 4427, July 1913) and ‘Guinevere’s Lover’ (vol. 4500, July 1914).
The war years of course interrupted any further publications in Tauchnitz and even afterwards it took several years for the firm to recover anything like its previous position. Elinor Glyn seems to have written less in this period anyway, but her career was starting to move in other directions. In 1914 a silent movie was made of ‘Three weeks’ and in 1920 she herself moved to Hollywood to become a scriptwriter. ‘Beyond the rocks’ was filmed in 1922, starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson and although Glyn did not write the screenplay for this, she was involved in the production and worked with Swanson on other films. Two years later she did write the screenplay for a remake of ‘Three weeks’, from which she allegedly made $65,000 as a 40% share of the profits.
As Tauchnitz recovered in the 1920s, it was still keen to publish any new novels by Glyn. ‘Man and Maid’ appeared as volume 4577 in May 1922, followed by ‘Six Days’ (vol. 4631, March 1924), ‘The great moment (vol. 4678, March 1925) and ‘Love’s blindness’ (vol. 4732, May 1926), all appearing relatively quickly after UK publication. Then in 1927 came ‘”It” and other stories’ (vol. 4807, November 1927). By the time it appeared in Tauchnitz, “It” had been made into a silent film earlier in 1927, making a major star of its leading lady, Clara Bow, who became the first ‘It’ girl.
But the era of silent movies was coming to an end, and with it Elinor Glyn’s particular brand of slightly risqué eroticism. She returned to England from Hollywood in 1929, and later attempts at both screenplay writing and film directing were not successful. She continued to write, but her moment had passed. The 1930s were a different era and Tauchnitz with other problems of its own, had had enough of Elinor Glyn. Reprints certainly continued into the early thirties, but there were no more new publications after “It”, so she finished on a total of 16 volumes spread over more than 25 years.