Dress Down Sunday: The Visits of Elizabeth by Elinor Glyn

published 1901



LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES





Visits of Elizabeth 1




The Rooses told me it wasn't "quite nice" for girls to loll in hammocks (and they sat on chairs)--that you could only do it when you are married; but I believe it is because they don't have pretty enough petticoats. Anyway, Lady Doraine and that horrid Smith creature made a place for me in the empty hammock between them, and, as I knew my "frillies" were all right, I hammocked too, and it was lovely.


Visits of Elizabeth 2


Mrs. Westaway is awfully pretty. She was lying in a swing chair, showing lots of petticoat and ankle. The ankle isn't bad, but the petticoat had common lace on it. She has huge turquoise earrings, and very stick-out hair arranged to look untidy with tongs.



Visits of Elizabeth 3


commentary: Elinor Glyn once said:
I write about rich environments, and lovely women and handsome men and perfect love, and a lot about beautiful babies for those who can never have any. It isn’t a bit clever, but people do seem to like it.
She was a massive bestseller in her day, her risqué books were sufficiently disapproved of to ensure everyone wanted to read them. She invented the concept of the It Girl, and went to Hollywood to write screenplays and even to direct. She had a dramatic and intriguing lovelife of her own, and must have been a fairly extraordinary woman.


Visits of Elizabeth 4


The Visits of Elizabeth was her first novel, and I was inspired to read it by a blogpost by Barb over at Leaves and Pages. It’s nothing like as shocking as her later novels, but is clever and amusing. The structure is a young woman, a debutante, going on various visits to friends and family in the UK and Europe, and writing her letters home to her mother. (We are not privy to her mother’s replies.) Elizabeth comes over very clearly – she is silly and ignorant but obviously has a certain charm and is very good-looking. She is very interested in her clothes, and is always ready to comment on the clothes of others: and also on their manners and ways of living.

But the real point is that she is a very early unreliable narrator. It is apparent to the reader that all kinds of other things are happening in the houses she visits: she is completely innocent and has no idea what she is reporting. So a number of love affairs are being conducted, and then she reports going out of her room late at night and seeing a tall dark figure entering another bedroom –‘obviously a ghost!’. There is of course considerable consternation when she voices this theory very loudly in the scene in the hammock above.
every one dropped their books and listened with rapt attention, and I could see them exchanging looks
My favourite of all her faux pas moments is when she is visiting her French godmother – an old friend of her father. She writes to her mother that she heard others discussing her hostess:
They said Godmamma gave herself great airs, and considering that everyone knew that years ago she had been the amie of that good-looking Englishman at the Embassy these high stilts of virtue were ridiculous. I suppose to be an amie is something wicked in French, but it doesn't sound very bad, does it, Mamma? And, whatever it is, I wonder if poor papa knew, as he was at the Embassy, and it might have been one of his friends, mightn't it?

You wouldn’t want to spend too long in Elizabeth’s company, but the jokes were well-structured, and Glyn kept it up for a surprisingly long time, it is very cleverly done, with a lot going on.

The other non-surprise is which of the various eligible young men encountered along the way will end up as her lucky husband. No reader will be in any doubt from their first argumentative conversation…

There was a second book, Elizabeth (now married but having fought with her husband) visiting America, but that was definitely a case of diminishing returns.

Girl in the Hammock by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta from The Athenaeum.

The Hammock by Giovanni Boldini – same source.

In the Hammock by Jan van Beers - Athenaeum again.

I was surprised by how many pictures there are of young women in hammocks, many of them showing their petticoats. Is the lace ‘common’ or not? Alas, I cannot tell…

Girl in a Swing is an even more popular subject: this one is a well-known Fragonard from the Wallace Collection – and the picture is discussed in this blogpost.

























Comments

  1. That's a clever way to tell a story, Moira - through the eyes of a naïve, and therefore unreliable, narrator. I've seen it done in a few other books, and it can work well. As you say, it's hard to sustain over the course of a novel, though, and I'm glad you thought Glyn managed it.

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    1. Yes, Margot, she really gave it her best shot, and the result was clever and enjoyable. It was very assured for a first novel.

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  2. I can see why ladies in hammocks were a favorite. I especially like the top one, where a gentleman has just departed the scene, leaving his 'cane' behind on the ground. Our heroine is fanning herself, obviously hot for some reason, and the bloom is off the roses at bottom right. So much information is a seemingly inocuous picture...

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    1. Excellent reading of the signs! It's not something I'd thought about before, but you can see the attraction of hammocks for a flirtatious and show-off-y young woman... and her male admirers.

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    2. It seems canes were definitely signifiers. I remember that in Valerie Steele's book on corsets, there is a picture of a 19th-century painting which is definitely erotic and which shows a rumpled bed, a thrown-off corset, a top hat - and a cane. I cannot remember if the people are even in the picture - the story is all in the objects.

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    3. How interesting! This is why people study art history, to get hold of these fascinating facts...

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  3. Is she meant to be an 18th century lady, GC? Kitsch portrayals of that elegant century were popular circa 1900.

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    1. Oh right, I did wonder. The styles looked v much further back, as you say, but the artist was bang on for the book - his dates are (1841-1920)- so it seemed reasonable to use it. He is a Spanish realist, so that was my justification, but your comment makes complete sense of it all.

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  4. She was famous (among other things) for a love scene on a tiger skin in one of her books, which prompted the following lines:

    Would you like to sin
    with Elinor Glyn
    on a tiger skin?
    Or would you prefer
    to err
    with her
    on some other fur?

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    1. Oh yes! Of course I had to read 3 weeks too, in my Kindle bundle of her works: blogpost coming soon... What an interesting person she was.
      Is that little verse anonymous?

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    2. Ah, that was in "Three Weeks", was it? I remember once trying to read it but somehow didn't succeed... I have no idea who wrote the little verse, but I love it!

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    3. Yes it most certainly is. Watch out for my post, with pictures of tigerskins. Yes, someone with a sense of humour...

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  5. I've read both of the Elizabeth books and although in the first she's rather silly, in the second she comes off as spoiled and inconsiderate.

    (The first book is somewhat marred by the age gap between Elizabeth and the man who eventually becomes her husband, which to modern eyes casts him in a rather creepy light).

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    1. Yes, I didn't get on with the second one. Tbh I didn't notice the age gap, not paying enough attention. But would have been seen as perfectly OK back then. ('He'll settle her down...')

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  6. Women were expected to die young in childbirth anyway...

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    1. Indeed. And so marriages were quite likely not to last all that long anyway, because of the mortality rate.

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  7. THREE WEEKS was the FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY of its era, and like the modern book it was shocking and horrifying and terrible and enormously popular. It seems strange to quote Sherlock Holmes in this context but..."The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It's all been done before and will be again."

    Did you see the movie THE CAT'S MEOW (2001)? It's about the death of Thomas Ince on board Wiliam Randolph Hearst's yacht, and has Joanna Lumley playing Elinor Glyn, who acts as a sort of narrator/commentator on the action. I rather suspect that Glyn would have liked her performance.

    ggary

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    1. I think I did see that movie when it was first out, but now I definitely need to watch it again.
      And you can just imagine people claiming they didn't read Glyn, or that they were shocked, or that they read her to check that it was as shocking as they'd heard...

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  8. The only thing I know about Elinor Glyn are these two lines from The Music Man:
    "Honestly, Mrs. Shinn, wouldn't you rather have your daughter read a classic than, than Elinor Glyn?" "What Elinor Glyn reads is her mother's problem."

    So I found this very interesting. Good to know more about this author.

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    1. I came across that reference when I was looking up info about the author, and I thought of you Tracy, I always associate that film with you!

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