“I wonder so much if it is amusing to be an adventuress, because that is evidently what I shall become now. I read in a book all about it…” So starts Red Hair by Elinor Glyn, originally published as The Vicissitudes of Evangeline.
Even after reading Red Hair, I have so many questions. What book or books is Glyn referring to? This won’t be my first post on a book that pokes fun at others of the era, but I wish I knew what turn of the century novels are being spoofed. The Vicissitudes of Evangeline was originally published in 1905 (available in the public domain!) but when was this Macaulay reprint published? The back of the dust jacket lists other Glyn novels including Love’s Blindness (1926) and there is a gift inscription in my copy dated Christmas 1928. My best guess is that Macaulay reprinted Red Hair in conjunction with the 1928 silent film starring Clara Bow. Only fragments of the lost silent film are known to exist. And finally, who is the cover artist for this edition? There is clearly a signature on the dust jacket but I have no clue what it says.
Evangeline comes from a scandalous background and is brought up by a cruel rich guardian, Mrs. Carruthers, who plots that Evangeline should marry her nephew for inheritance purposes. Red Hair is a series of journal entries that takes place in the weeks following Mrs. Carruthers’ sudden death. Her nephew, Christopher Carruthers, arrives and rejects the antiquated marriage arrangement to a stranger, thus turning Evangeline out. He then waffles a bunch, gets rejected by Evangeline, and has the bright idea to call in his charming handsome friend for reinforcements. That friend is Lord Robert, who (spoiler alert!) Evangeline ends up marrying at the end of the novel.
The entire adventuress storyline is intentionally quite far-fetched. Readers looking for the grand adventures of a suddenly penniless protagonist should look elsewhere. Other characters laugh at Evangeline’s plans and Evangeline is unsure how to venture into the world with no connections or money. Instead, she ends up staying at an oppressively boring neighbor’s home, then with a society woman who she meets through the neighbors, and finally makes it to London but can only roll out a plan to stay at a hotel very briefly. No plans are made while all the male characters within a certain radius fawn over Evangeline and we are constantly reminded that everyone thinks she is trouble waiting to happen because of her red hair.
There are two love triangles in Red Hair and both play out with lots of drama but few real surprises. The scandal level is fairly low in Red Hair: at one point the matronly neighbor sees Evangeline’s nightgown draped over a chair and thinks it much too thin. There is a plot line about Lord Robert’s sickly half brother involving another inheritance squabble. Red Hair serves as an interesting example of an early Elinor Glyn novel and predecessor to other romance novels of the decades following.
My thanks to family friend Elizabeth a.k.a. Etsy’s Grandmother’s Attic for finding this book. I’m looking forward to our spring antiquing plans!
Copies of Elinor Glyn’s works are available for purchase here.