Steam Heat

One of the year’s so far unmentioned highlights has been the arrival of a collection of Elinor Glyn’s novels. Elinor Glyn and her books, movie scripts, and even life are one of the major building blocks of civilization as we know it. Oh, other people contributed stones for the building, but Elinor Glyn was a little boulder.

For nearly a generation, Elinor Glyn provided details about how members of the aristocracy sin, from Three Weeks in 1907 (contributing a long-remembered tiger skin rug) to It in 1927, she fascinated the world at large, and was a natural for Hollywood. Just about the last thing she wrote was an autobiography which tried to spell out how much of her previous works were based on her life. (Her sister and both her daughters married into the aristocracy, but she was busy.) She also wrote a book on how to write, which should probably be on the shelf of anyone aspiring to understand what our ancestors read.

The problem, of course, is where to place the highly influential and now seldom-read novels. “Famous Books” are not necessarily Literature, though for years one of the volunteers insisted I should put Forever Amber into Literature.

“It’s a historical novel,” she insisted. “Like Jane Austen.”

“Or Barbara Cartland,” said I.

So…oh, Forever Amber? It was for many people the definitive novel on how members of the aristocracy sinned during the seventeenth century. The details were scandalous enough that the volunteer had pooled together with some other girls in school to buy a copy and then pass it around in acute secrecy. The author, Kathleen Winsor, was asked repeatedly by interviewers if Amber, the heroine of the novel, was based on her own life. “Of course not,” she said. “When would I have time to write books?”

I’m afraid that the works of Elinor Glyn and Kathleen Winsor keep winding up in Romance, along with Rosemary Rogers and…. Rosemary Rogers? A young friend of mine once had to get parental permission to check out the latest Rosemary Rogers paperback from the public library. It had been recommended by a friend. I don’t recall if the friend provided page numbers or folded the corners of the pages with good bits on them in advance. (The librarian could have done that in her spare time, I suppose. A form of reference service.)

After I win the lottery, I may dedicate some of the money to a study of just how long dead an author has to be before ladies who produce steamy romances DO wind up in literature. Aphra Behn makes it at our Book Fair, but it’s been over 300 years since she produced the works which were said to sink women’s morals to the level of those of men. (She herself sniffed that no one would have worried about her work if a man had written it.)

Plenty of nineteenth century romance novelists remain in the romance section at the Book Fair, but the Brontes have a place on the Literature table which has never been in doubt. Yes, after I get that lottery win, I will have to endow a Chair of Romance reading at the Newberry.

There will also be a footstool and a semester’s supply of boxed chocolates to go with it. Tiger skin rug optional.

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