Dress Down Sunday: Sinning on a Tiger Skin


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn

published 1906



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[Three separate scenes below]

A bright fire burnt in the grate, and some palest orchid-mauve silk curtains were drawn in the lady's room when Paul entered from the terrace. And loveliest sight of all, in front of the fire, stretched at full length, was his tiger—and on him—also at full length—reclined the lady, garbed in some strange clinging garment of heavy purple crepe, its hem embroidered with gold, one white arm resting on the beast's head, her back supported by a pile of the velvet cushions, and a heap of rarely bound books at her side, while between her red lips was a rose not redder than they—an almost scarlet rose. Paul had never seen one as red before. The whole picture was barbaric. It might have been some painter's dream of the Favourite in a harem. It was not what one would expect to find in a sedate Swiss hotel.



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The light of all the love in the world seemed to flood the lady's face. She bent over and kissed him, and smoothed his cheek with her velvet cheek, she moved so that his curly lashes might touch her bare neck, and at last she slipped from under him, and laid his head gently down upon the pillows. Then a madness of tender caressing seized her. She purred as a tiger might have done, while she undulated like a snake. She touched him with her finger-tips, she kissed his throat, his wrists, the palms of his hands, his eyelids, his hair. Strange, subtle kisses, unlike the kisses of women. And often, between her purrings, she murmured love-words in some strange fierce language of her own, brushing his ears and his eyes with her lips the while.

They were sitting on the tiger by now, and she undulated round and all over him, feeling his undulated round and all over him, feeling his coat, and his face, and his hair, as a blind person might, till at last it seemed as if she were twined about him like a serpent. And every now and then a narrow shaft of the glorious dying sunlight would strike the great emerald on her forehead, and give forth sparks of vivid green which appeared reflected again in her eyes. Paul's head swam, he felt intoxicated with bliss. "This Venice is for you and me, my Paul."

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commentary: When I did a post on another Glyn novel, The Visits of Elizabeth, blogfriend Birgitta quoted these famous lines in the comments:
Would you like to sin
with Elinor Glyn
on a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
to err
with her
on some other fur?
This anonymous verse refers to her most famous novel. And here it is.

Three Weeks is almost beyond comment. It was considered hot stuff in its day (perhaps like 50 Shades of Grey) and I’m not surprised: it is non-explicit by modern standards, but is full of scenes like the undulating snake one above, and the whole premise seems immoral. High-born lady (who has married into evil foreign Royalty) has passionate short (guess how long?) affair with young English gent, with melodramatic results. But this is not immoral! No! This is what Glyn says in a later introduction to the book:
And to all who read, I say—at least be just! and do not skip. No line is written without its having a bearing upon the next, and in its small scope helping to make the presentment of these two human beings vivid and clear. The verdict I must leave to the Public, but now, at all events, you know, kind Reader, that to me, the "Imperatorskoye" appears a noble woman, because she was absolutely faithful to the man she had selected as her mate, through the one motive which makes a union moral in ethics—Love.—ELINOR GLYN
The book could almost be described as an erotic thriller.

Paul learns the mysteries of love from this older woman, who doesn’t always have a lot of time for his English ways:
Then she turned upon him. "Understand at once," she said haughtily. "Either you leave me unjarred by your English conventionalities, or you… go back to Lucerne alone!" Paul shrugged his shoulders. He was angry, but could not insist further.
‘Unjarred by your conventionalities’! What a phrase. I am helpless before her.

Glyn is very non-specific about the clothes that The Lady wears – they are all ‘garments’ clinging in misty folds, or shimmering, or strange, or ‘unlike any other garment he had ever seen’. In fact the descriptions read like those of rather mind-boggled traditional men trying to imagine what such a woman would wear – but it is clear from her other books that Glyn was happy and able to describe clothes in some detail, so this must have been a deliberate choice. Perhaps she was trying to get into Paul’s head. And there is a marked contrast with Isabella, whom Paul thought he was in love with:
Paul was six foot two, and Isabella quite six foot, and broad in proportion. They were dressed almost alike, and at a little distance, but for the lady's scanty petticoat, it would have been difficult to distinguish her sex. "Good-bye, old chap," she said.
I think Glyn was really tilting the scales there…

The author was obviously a fascinating character – I love this picture of her:


Three Weeks 1


And her life, her works and achievements, her romantic entanglements – all make for splendid reading. I think she must have been the perfect dinner guest. When she was first married (to a generally rather unsatisfactory man, Clayton Glynn) he hired Brighton swimming baths for a session so that she could swim up and down, naked, while he watched her.

I have read several of her books now – you can pick up a ‘collected works’ for the Kindle very cheaply – but what I next would like to do is read her autobiography, or the biography written by her son Anthony Glyn.

See also my earlier post on Glyn’s first book, The Visits of Elizabeth.

In my post on that  book, I commented on how many paintings there were of young women in hammocks. Tigerskins – not so much, but still a surprising number. I think this post’s existence would be justified simply by these pictures. Salome with the tigers (3rd pic down) is probably closest to the heroine here, but I couldn’t resist the others. Victor Bobrov (2nd pic) seems to have concentrated far too much on the nude, his depiction of a tigerskin is terrible is it not? But the other artists were much better at that…

Sewing Girl on a Tiger Skin by John William Godward (Atheneaum website).

Nude on a Tiger Skin by Viktor Bobrov, here.

Young Girl Draped in a Tiger Skin by John Maler Collier, here.

Salome and the Tigers by Rudolf Ernst is also from the Athenaeum.

Picture of the author, Elinor Glyn, by Philip Alexius de László from the Athenaeum website.
































Comments

  1. S.J. Perelman wrote a number of "Cloudland Revisited" pieces for the New Yorker, essays in which he would revisit books and movies that had impressed him in childhood. The piece on Three Weeks is "Cloudland Revisited: Tuberoses and Tigers", collected in The Most of S.J. Perelman. He writes of the introduction that "I took the entreaty so much to heart that every asterisk of Three Weeks was literally engraved on my brain, which, after two hundred and ninety pulsating pages, must have borne a striking resemblance to an old bath sponge peppered with buckshot." And for the robe and tiger scene, "It was very small wonder that when I originally read this passage, my breathing became shallow and I felt as if the Berea College choir were grouped in the base of my skull singing gems from Amy Woodford-Finden."

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    1. Thanks for this - very interesting, I must try to get hold of that piece! I'm sure I had the Perelman book at one time. Great quotes there...

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  2. There were alternative animals.

    William Plomer's "Mews-flat Mona":
    "On a sofa upholstered in panther skin
    Mona did researches in original sin. "

    while in Saki's "Mrs. Packletide's Tiger" there is:
    Clovis's tempting suggestion of a primeval dance party, at which every one should wear the skins of beasts they had recently slain. "I should be in rather a Baby Bunting condition," confessed Clovis, "with a miserable rabbit-skin or two to wrap up in, but then," he added, with a rather malicious glance at Diana's proportions, "my figure is quite as good as that Russian dancing boy's."

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    1. Oh I love Saki, and Mrs Packletide was a good one. Don't know Plomer... So I don't know relative dates - were animal skins always associated with risqué behaviour....?

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  3. This is quite a book, indeed, Moira. As I think about it, I'd like to read a biography of Glyn, too. It sounds as though she had a fascinating life (I like your description of her as 'the perfect dinner guest).

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    1. Yes, Margot, and you have to say - good for her. She didn't care what anyone thought, she made her own rules and she made her own money.

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  4. Love the pictures, of the "Babylonian sorceress" school. All that marble - so cold and uncomfortable. No wonder they needed tiger skins.

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    1. Yes indeed, a fur would come in handy. And there is a certain recognizable style to that picture. A bit Waterhouse, or Alma Tadema, or Frederic Leighton.

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  5. Thanks for reading this, Moira! I bet this was the book that teenagers of the day were desperate to get their hands on (in my day it was Lady Chatterley's Lover).

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    1. Oh yes! I do feel that no-one else NEEDS to read this... We passed around Forever Amber and Valley of the Dolls.

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  6. Caveat Lector: When it comes to the Kindle versions of old texts, Amazon is a tad cavalier about proofreading/editing. I have a couple of their vintage mystery collections and the m$stk89s aRe qu@rt!e j5rr&ng.

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    1. Yes, optical recognition is not what it should be. My worst case is a French classic I downloaded in English: It became obvious it was just the French text put through Google Translate or similar, it wasn't even proper sentences, it was just rubbish...

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  7. Hmm.....pot, head, boil, rather, my, in a

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    1. Yes, I can work that one out, and you're probably right to avoid.

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