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Historic People

You are in: Somerset > History > History features > Historic People > Montacute's tigress

Elinor Glyn, author

Pic: Elspeth Chowdhary Best

Montacute's tigress

A red-haired beauty who likened herself to a tigress, Elinor Glynn was the first of a generation who wrote romantic racy novels for the mass market. A former inhabitant of Montacute House, she also travelled extensively and had success in Hollywood.

While red roses, chocolate and champagne are commonly associated with romance, for Elinor Glyn, an affair with Lord Curzon began with a tiger skin.

After hearing of her racy novel, Three Weeks, and its subsequent performance on stage, the owner of Montacute, Lord Curzon of Kedleston made sure he had an invite to see the play.

As a mark of his appreciation he sent her a tiger skin, which he had shot and killed himself during his time in India.

The widow, and former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon had first seen Elinor at a society ball.

He liked what he saw and was no doubt even more curious after the controversy surrounding her novel.

'Three Weeks' centred on a younger man and older woman who have a passionate affair making love on a tiger skin. 

Although the novel wasn't explicit, it provoked scandal and gave its author a degree of notoriety after people presumed it was autobiographical.

'Unusually beautiful'

In the biography, Addicted to Romance, by Joan Hardwick, Elinor was an attractive woman with wit and intelligence.

"On his part, Curzon saw a woman in her early forties, a mature and striking beauty and a wonderful white complexion.

"Not only were her green eyes unusually beautiful, they were bright with intelligence and curiosity. He had come prepared to admire and patronise and perhaps engage in a little mild flirtation. But he quickly discovered that Elinor was a woman to be taken seriously."

Elinor Glyn was an already married mother of two daughters and although she had been admired by several men in the past, this time it was serious.

She fell in love with Lord Curzon, and he 'would be the focus of her intense love and passion' for the next eight years.

"In the past the romantic innocence of unconsummated affairs had been enough for her. Now for the first time, she felt passion and a real conflict between the fidelity she believed she owed her husband and a desire to experience love to the full."

'No emotional stability'

Their affair began in secret and the couple would enjoy meetings over lunch at a hotel in London.

Elinor was an independent woman, who not only supported her husband, Clayton, who had become a gambler and a drinker, but she also supported her two daughters.

Her affair with Lord Curzon was a turbulent one.

"Their relationship offered no emotional stability to Elinor since Curzon would blow first hot and then cold. No one had ever before treated her as inconsistently as Curzon did. She did not like the situation but she felt unable to change it."

Seven years into their affair, her situation changed dramatically.

Her husband died which affected her deeply, because although she had fallen out of love with him, she still had a great deal of affection for him and sadness at the way things had turned out.

His death was during the First World War and as a way to help her through her grief, she decided on doing something to help in the war effort.

She volunteered to work the overnight shift at Grosvenor Street canteen in London, which provided hot meals for soldiers going in and out of Victoria Station.

Soon afterwards, Lord Curzon made her an offer she couldn't resist, giving her renewed hope for their relationship.

He had acquired Montacute House and asked her to supervise its refurbishment.

'So faithless and vile'

However, she did not know that he was also having an affair with Grace Duggan, a wealthy society lady who had also recently been made a widow.

While Elinor was dividing her time doing her voluntary work at the canteen, and at the drafty unheated stately home, Lord Curzon was spending 'a comfortable Christmas with Grace Duggan at Sunninghill'.

Worse was to come for Elinor.

Even though she worked tirelessly on the house decoration and he would visit her at Montacute, she started to realise that his love for her was fading.

She endured freezing conditions at the house and was also cut off from society, where she would otherwise have learned of his other romantic involvements.

It was for this reason that Elinor had no idea of the increasing amount of time Lord Curzon was spending with Grace Duggan.

In the 11 December edition of The Times newspaper, his engagement with Grace Duggan was announced.

However, because there was no telephone at the house, she only read this on the 17th December, when the newspaper reached her and she became aware of his deceit and treachery.

"She wrote in great distress to a friend, ' Oh, that he whom I adored, whose nobility I treasured, whose probity I worshipped, could prove so faithless and so vile."

She left Montacute never to return.

But Elinor's life went onto to achieve more success.

She went to America where she established a career as a Hollywood film director, where she went on to mentor the likes of the former Hollywood heartthrob, Rudolph Valentino, and the young startlet, Clara Bow, whom she coined the term 'It' girl, after her success in a film.

Elinor died on 23 September 1943 in Chelsea, London after a short illness.

last updated: 12/02/2009 at 18:38
created: 11/02/2009

You are in: Somerset > History > History features > Historic People > Montacute's tigress



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