The It Girl

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin
Or would you prefer
To err with her

On some other fur?

Elinor Glyn, regarded as a pioneer in mainstream romance fiction, died on this day in 1943. Glyn’s steamy novels pushed the sexual barriers as far as they might go in the first decades of the 20th century, and the “high priestess of the God of love” (her self-description) pushed her novels and movies so relentlessly that the jingle-writers and the wits, from Mark Twain to Dorothy Parker, took aim (see the verse above). In a 1927 “Constant Reader” review for The New Yorker, Parker targets It, the novel in which Glyn coined “It” (for sex appeal). The novel came with a foreword in which Glyn defined, for those who needed It defined, her term; Parker was not in this group:

“There must be physical attraction, but beauty is unnecessary. Conceit or self-consciousness destroys ‘It’ immediately. In the animal world, ‘It’ demonstrates” (sic. Sic as a dog.) “in tigers and cats — both animals being fascinating and mysterious and quite unbiddable.” So there you have it, in a coconut-shell. Now we can go on with the story.

Parker next pounces on Glyn’s heroine, tossing her aside with one quick shake:

Then there was this girl, Ava Cleveland…. Ava was young and slender and proud. And she had It. It, hell; she had Those.

On this day in 1819, 25-year-old John Keats wrote to his friend, Charles Brown, to say that he was giving up poetry for journalism. This is also the first day of autumn; four days earlier in 1819, Keats had written “To Autumn,” now one of his most popular poems, one which many critics regard as “flawless in structure, texture, tone, and rhythm”:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run….

Four months later, Keats experienced his first lung hemorrhage — “That drop of blood is my death warrant,” he now wrote Brown — and a year after that he was dead. Gathering up all that Keats wrote from September 21, 1818, to September 21, 1819, biographer John Gittings has judged it “the greatest year of living growth of any English poet” (John Keats: The Living Year).

It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggression.

—Sigmund Freud, who died on this day in 1939

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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