A novel about a pair of dashing, wealthy twin brothers who are briefly forced to swap identities, which introduces all kinds of complications into their lives. 1933.
It’s a total coincidence, but it feels like the last few books I’ve reviewed have all had similar titles…Barren Ground, The Handsome Road, The Middle Ground, and now, my latest addition to this lineup, Glorious Flames. It’s an accident, I swear…!
Over Christmas in Portland, Oregon, I was able to talk my family into trying a new bookstore, one we’d never visited before. Called Bingo Used Books, it’s a funky little place, with those crammed shelves and slightly illogical organization system you’d expect from an independent used bookstore. I was a bit disappointed that their older, obscurer (read: more valuable) books were not on display, sold only online. But then I found Glorious Flames in the $1 bin, and I was sold.
From an objective viewpoint, I can see why this little novel was on clearance. It’s a tight, clean copy, but who’s ever heard of it, or its author, Elinor Glyn?
Not many people. This copy likely hadn’t been opened since the early 1970s; when I started reading, a card fell out that read “Haven Ward–South Salt Lake Stake Meeting Schedule–1970-71.”
The thing is, Elinor Glyn was no small name, back in her day. Her writing career spanned the first half of the 20th century, from Hollywood screenwriting to bestselling novels. She was renowned for her (written) portrayal of sex appeal, and Glyn is credited with coining the term “It” (as in “the It girl”).
Of her 40 books, only a handful of them, including her most famous Three Weeks, seem to be read anymore. Glorious Flames wasn’t even listed on Goodreads. (Appalling, I know! But don’t worry, it’s been seen to.)
This is all a shame, really, because Glorious Flames is so perfectly evocative of a time and a place. Imagine, if you will, a wealthy, aristocratic English family, flitting about in early 1930s London. But wait, it gets better: two brothers–twins–who are reportedly so dashing, with eyes so brilliantly blue, they leave a flutter of sighs in their wake.
One of the twins, the eldest by mere minutes and therefore inheritor of the Duke title, knows he has this effect on women, and he’s happy to take advantage of it. Lately, though, he’s fallen prey to temptation of his own, as he’s met a woman who, while his equal in good looks, is actually a bit dangerous for him. (We find out, pretty early on, that she’s a Russian spy, and seducing the Duke is her assignment. The Duke, fortunately, doesn’t seem to mind.)
The other twin, born minutes later and therefore a mere Lord, doesn’t seem to be aware of his equally good looks. His character has gone a much more wholesome direction; lately, he’s returned from Afghanistan, where he won the DFC for “exceptional bravery in rescuing Englishwomen from a besieged fort.”
Lord John comes home because a marriage has been fixed for his brother the Duke. He’s to marry a distant cousin, a woman who has her own sad, little past. Raised by parents who once married for love but now make no attempt to hide their disdain for one another, Anthea is an heiress who sees marriage as a purely pragmatic affair:
That is, she had not a single illusion left, and was prepared to take the nearest broad road–or narrow lane, as the case might be–to financial security and freedom, which, as things were, could only be attained by marriage. Her father’s and mother’s constant quarrels had been lesson enough for her to avoid making a love match. Love obviously did not last, and in these practical days had better be ruled out altogether.
Instead, Anthea hopes that by marrying conveniently, and gaining in wealth and therefore independence, she will be able to perform various acts of good for humanity.
Of course, this kind of “I’ll never fall in love” declaration seems to demand a dramatic reversal, such as the one I so enjoyed witnessing in My Lady Valentine.
And so Anthea is engaged to the Duke, and they’re both good-looking, and it’s a strategic match for the families. Everyone wins. On the big day, though, the Duke is missing in action and Lord John is forced to step in and pretend to be the Duke. The problem now becomes, who is actually married to Anthea? And most excitingly of all, is there finally real love in the air?
There’s no denying that Glorious Flames has its cheesy moments. Just imagine a typical 1930s Hollywood romance film, and you’ll know what I mean. The language is perhaps a bit more flowery than we would expect from this genre today.
But my oh my, Elinor Glyn sure knows how to tell a story! Under her guidance the plot positively sails along, with never a dull moment to be slogged through. Even if this genre isn’t your normal cup of tea, I’m betting you’ll love it. I certainly did!