Elinor Glyn exploded onto the scene in the early 20th century following the 1907 release of her controversial novel Three Weeks. She became Hollywood royalty, coining the term “it”, the definition of which is still used to describe women today, but what exactly is “it”?
“It” is a quality that can be described as an innate sex appeal, something that draws people’s attention without even trying. In an interview in 1930, Elinor Glyn herself states that “it” comes from being “perfectly self confident”. She likens this quality to a “tiger in a zoo”, and the way in which it is “utterly indifferent”. In addition to this, Lindsey baker has written a thoroughly interesting article for The Guardian on what it means to be an “it” girl. In this, she details a timeline of the “it” girl and quotes the most concrete definition that Glyn has given to this term:
“To have ‘It’, the fortunate possessor must have that strange magnetism which attracts both sexes. ‘It’ is a purely virile quality, belonging to a strong character”
The qualities of “it” certainly applies to the mysterious woman in Three Weeks, known simply as “The Lady”. The lack of a name allows her character to be a sort-of blank canvas, perhaps creating an archetype for the original “it” girl. Indeed, the Lady appears to possess the “strange magnetism” that Glyn describes. Even from Paul’s first sighting of her, she entices him in a way that he cannot resist; a feeling that he describes as an “absorbing interest thrilling his whole being” (p. 19).
Elinor Glyn’s comparison between “it” and the image of tigers also holds great significance in Three Weeks. The Lady is commonly associated with the motif of the tiger skin, first mentioned when Paul enters her room and notices a couch “covered with a tiger-skin” (p.37). This image of the tiger is mentioned throughout the novel no less than 33 times (a fact that I discovered through use of the Voyant tool). The last mention of the tiger is in the penultimate chapter of the novel, when Paul thinks of how The Lady “had loved tigers, and been in sympathy with them always” (p.263), cementing her connection to these animals as well as her status as the embodiment of “it”.
Glyn, too, seemed to enjoy being associated with the image of a tiger. She would often be pictured posing alongside tiger skins- an image that quickly became her trademark. Her highly-refined public persona was so iconic that it prompted a short poem satirising Three Weeks; including the lines “Would you like to sin/With Elinor Glyn/ On a tiger skin?”. This poem addresses her image as a tiger-adorned “it” girl as well as the controversy stemming from the “sin” in Three Weeks.
Striving to define “it” as well as embodying the qualities she herself described, Elinor Glyn has managed to cement herself as part of Hollywood history. The term she has coined has endured through decades, and The Lady in Three Weeks remains an interesting case study as to what it takes to have “it”.
And for those that are interested… Further Reading:
Anonymous, “Would you like to sin with Elinor Glyn?”, Forgotten Patriot , at
Baker, Lindsay, “Got It?” , The Guardian, at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2001/apr/21/weekend.lindsaybaker1
Glyn, Elinor, for British Movietone, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAoFIYulf90&feature=youtu.be