Book Review by Kathryn R: I found this book in the Old Pier Bookshop* in Morecambe while browsing for other books from 1900-1950. It was in the ‘collectables’ case.
There is no publication date in this edition, but the cover and the preface suggest that it was published in the early 1960s, as the writer makes reference to Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, both published in the UK about that time. The reason the writer of the preface compares the three books is because of the reactions all three aroused in the British public.
In a 1915 court case, linked to the book’s publication, Mr Justice Younger said:
‘Stripped of its trappings, which are mere accident, it is nothing more or less than a sensual adulterous intrigue.’
Three Weeks is a coming of age love story the first two thirds of which are either very romantic or hilarious depending on one’s point of view. The last third, whilst being melodramatic, is tragic.
It is the story of Paul Verdayne, a young Englishman of 22, who would like to be engaged to be married to Isabella Waring, a vicar’s daughter after his mother has caught them kissing.
His mother disapproves, because Isabella is ‘ a daughter of the middle classes, so far beneath his noble station’.
He is sent to Europe on for the sake of his health and to get him away from Isabella and is told by his parents that they will not sanction his engagement to Isabella until he returns in three months on his twenty-third birthday.
He first goes to France, then to Switzerland where he finds himself in an out of season hotel be a lake. He meets a glamorous ‘older’ woman – (she is about 35). She is never referred to by name, but Paul understands form talking to the hotel staff she is a princess of a small European state calling herself Madame Zalenska.
When he first sees her, he is horrified that she is eating alone.
A woman to order dinner for herself beforehand, and have special wine and special roses, special attention too! It was simply disgusting!
After this initial disgust, he is seduced by her and they begin a sexual relationship which lasts the three weeks of the title.
Some of the descriptions of incidents in their affair made me laugh out loud. After Paul has been out for the day with the Princess and she has paid for lunch in spite of his protestations, he decides to buy her a gift. This gift is a tiger-skin rug which he wraps in brown paper and sends to her room. That evening after dinner, she invites him to her lakeside room.
A bright fire burnt in the grate, and some palest orchid mauve silk curtains were drawn in the lady’s room when Paul entered from the terrace. And loveliest sight of all, in front of the fire, stretched at full length was his tiger – and on him- also at full length – reclined the lady, garbed in some strange clinging garment of heavy purple crepe, its hem embroidered with gold, one white arm resting on the beast’s head, her back supported by a pile of the velvety cushions, and a heap of rarely bound books at her side, while between her red lips was a rose not redder than they – Paul had never seen one so red before.
After this they melted into one another’s arms and cooed and kissed and were foolish and incoherent as lovers always are and have been from the beginning of old time. More concentrated – more absorbed than the sternest Eastern sage – absorbed in esch other. The spirit of two natures vibrating as One.
The rest of the book is the story of their affair. It seems that the Princess has run away from her abusive husband; during the three weeks this is alluded to, but the Princess does not talk about it. The reader knows that she is being pursued by someone because the Princess keeps receiving mysterious letters and her servant Dmitri is there to protect her.
The affair ends when she writes to Paul that she cannot keep him safe from her husband and she disappears is forced to hide. She does not reveal that she is pregnant.
Paul’s valet summons Paul’s father who takes the heartbroken Paul back home. It is at this point that although the novel is melodramatic the reality of the violence of the Princess’s husband is revealed. He finds her and stabs her. The murder is reported in the English newspapers.
Everyone believes that her son is the King’s son, so he is the heir to the throne.
The story ends when Paul is invited as an Ambassador to the Princess’s country where he meets his son and we return to melodrama.
As he gazed on his little son, while the organ played out a Te Deum and the sweet choir sang, a great rush of tenderness filled Paul’s heart and melted forever the icebergs of grief and pan.
According to by Charles Graves a critic and journalist (1899 -1971), in the preface to my edition,
Although ‘Three Weeks’ had a very hostile reception from the book critics, it did not affect the sales and from that day onwards Elinor Glyn symbolised sex () and continued to do so for a quarter of a century.
Charles Graves had met Elinor Glyn and knew her by reputation says of her:
Passionate love to her was the highest end to which man could aspire.
From a 21st century perspective and from a literary perspective, there is much to mock, including the excessive use of exclamation marks. However, I did find it interesting that the woman is the one in control of the relationship with Paul (although not with her husband).
Three Weeks is interesting in that something so ‘racy’ would be published and widely read in 1907, although probably not openly. Charles Graves himself says that he read it at school.
I borrowed a dog-eared copy at Charterhouse, knowing full well that anyone caught reading it would have been instantly expelled.
The book is an interesting insight into what was being reading the early 20th century. I am not sure that I would be drawn to read another of Elinor Glyn’s books – unless of course I were to unearth another one at the Old Pier Bookshop*.
*The Old Pier Bookshop on the prom at Morecambe is an amazing shop. It is dark and piled high with books of all vintages. There appears to be no order to it, but if you ask the owner for something (anything) he will take you the exact spot in the shop where your book could be found. Combine it with afternoon tea or a cocktail in the art deco Midland Hotel and you have a perfect day out.