The Career of Katherine Bush by Elinor Glyn

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The Career of Katherine Bush is a staggeringly lovely and enjoyable story.

Elinor Glyn creates a heroine who becomes more likeable as the book goes on. Her main ambition is simply to “be a lady” – and one has to remember that in the era the book was written, there was a near-impassable divide between the life paths open to “a lady” versus a woman of lower status. That said the divisions were breaking down even during that era, the book mentions aristocrats marrying actresses, and of course the central plot follows this theme. The First World War would accelerate this demolition: the book was written after the war began, but set shortly before it.

Modern readers may wish to skim some long passages of guff about the aristocracy and the class system. Bear in mind that this book was written a century ago. With this kind of stuff one either has to be amused by it or simply ignore it.

Everything does go pretty well for Katherine. It helps that she appears to be a greater paragon of grace, intelligence and beauty with every page. The final man put in her path is really superb – possibly a modern reader would prefer to shave ten years off his age – but he’s still devastatingly attractive and the perfect man for the heroine.

It’s also steamy. We might not get explicit scenes and body parts coming out in a book from this era, but it seethes with passion. And the wonderful melodrama which Glyn is such a master of.

Is it realistic? Probably not. It’s very much a wish-fulfilment kind of a book, you know where it’s heading, it’s not trying to be realistically gritty or tragic, so just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Apparently there’s a lost 1919 silent movie of this book, and what a shame, because it would have been glorious to see. It’s not the kind of plot, particularly in terms of structure, that film makers or TV producers would commission any more.

A modern production (or novel) would probably reunite the heroine with Suitor 1 or make Suitor 2 available for her. But I’m glad this was written when it was written, and Suitor 3 is the man.

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