Three Weeks

March 15, 2007

I haven’t been updating much lately because I’m home for spring break. With access to so many actual books, I don’t need to resort to etexts as often, and I haven’t found anything new. But then it occurred to me that I haven’t written about Elinor Glyn at all, which is kind of a weird omission.

The information I’ve been able to gather online suggest that Glyn’s only remaining claim to fame is that she was the person who first called sex appeal “It”. In fact, she wrote the book that the Clara Bow movie It was adapted from. She was well known as a writer of romance novels — you know, the intensely passionate, deeply felt kind. She also wrote some less serious ones, like the The Visits of Elizabeth, but those are only slightly less racy.

Her most sensational novel, Three Weeks, inspired a short poem:

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?

Or would you prefer
To err
With her
On some other fur?

Three Weeks is kind of hysterical, and since I’ve read it a couple of times, it’s the one I can most easily talk about without going back and rereading it. It is the story of a young Englishman, Paul Verdayne. He’s very young and beautiful and all that, but his mind is unformed and he has no appreciation of, you know, culture. He fancies himself in love with a girl called Isabella, but since Isabella is the vicar’s daughter and has large red hands, his mother is horrified and sends Paul abroad for three months to forget her.

He acts like a brat for his first little while in Europe, because he’s asleep to nuances. He is “just a splendid English young animal of the best class,” and he doesn’t really think about stuff. Then he goes to Switzerland, where he encounters a vaguely Russian empress or something — she never tells him her name, and he never asks. She offers to teach him about life, or something, and of course he accepts. Strangely enough, “life” is not just a euphemism for sex — although she teaches him about that, too — she helps him appreciate beauty and culture and stuff, and reads to him in dead languages, which he seems to enjoy.

After a while, they head to Venice, where they continue to be passionately in love and also have sex on a tiger skin, inspiring the bit of doggerel above. There’s much less talk about doom in Three Weeks than in Charlotte M. Braeme’s Coralie, which is silly, because that book ended with a happily ever after, while this one ends with a dead, vaguely Russian empress. Anyway, while they’re in Venice, the lady’s faithful servants figure out that they’re being watched by the lady’s husband’s spies. Apparently the lady’s husband is cruel and boorish, which is all the excuse the lady needs to fool around with random young Englishmen, apparently. So the lady leaves Paul in his sleep, leaving behind only a letter and a gold-encrusted collar for his dog, Pike.

Paul wakes up, reads the letter, and immediately becomes dangerously ill. His valet summons his father, Sir Charles Verdayne, who comes to Venice to take care of him. His father is, kind of amusingly, deeply sympathetic and understanding. After nursing him mostly back to health, he contacts a friend with a yacht who happens to be in the neighborhood, and the three of them sail around for a while. Then they go home.

Paul is pretty subdued, but he impresses everyone by being eloquent and cultured. He does an okay job of hiding the fact that he’s really full of anguish, but his mother is disappointed because he shows no interest in eligible young girls. Then he gets a letter from his lady letting him know that’s she’s just given birth to his son. He’s overjoyed, and goes for a walk in the woods, where he meets a gypsy woman with a baby. He’s feeling pretty kindly towards babies just then, so he’s like, “here, have some money,” and the gypsy woman is like, “here, have a blessing. Your kid’ll sit on a throne some day,” and Paul thinks to himself, “ho hum! that’s a coincidence,” and is very happy.

Eventually he is allowed to go visit the lady and the kid at the lady’s villa on some Greek island. He goes off on the yacht with his dad and their friend again, but just as he gets to the villa, one of the faithful servants sends him away and he soon discovers that the lady’s husband has just killed her — although not, oddly enough, because she’s just given birth to someone else’s kid.

Anyway, doom. And also more anguish. A lot more anguish. Time does not heal Paul’s grief, it only coats “it with a dull, callous crust.” Doesn’t that sound appetizing? He travels around the world for a while, but that doesn’t help either.

Then one day he goes walking in the woods and meets the gypsy woman again. Don’t ask me why she’s still there — aren’t gypsies supposed to move around? Anyway, since he last saw her, her child and husband have died and she has become hard and gaunt and evil-looking. For some reason, this prompts him to actually think about his life, and how, five years on or so, he hasn’t done anything worthwhile. So he decides to feel better, and then he does. Wouldn’t it be cool if it actually worked that way?

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