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Man and Maid by Elinor Glyn

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Glorious, vintage romance in an atmospheric setting of Paris towards the end of the Great War.

Sir Nicholas has been injured in action: he has lost an eye and a leg. Still a very handsome and virile man, he has nonetheless become disillusioned with life.

Persuaded to write a book, he hires an apparently dowdy secretary, “Miss Sharp”, who insists on wearing yellow-lensed horn-rimmed glasses to hide her eyes.

* Which are naturally dazzling blue. And beautiful.
* And her background is far from humble.
* And she’s far less indifferent to him than he thinks.

What follows is a fairly conventional melodrama of suppressed feelings and misunderstandings and a “marriage in name only” – when they’re both crazy about one another.

What makes this book so remarkable is the language and the period detail. There are so many intelligent and interesting characters with sharp little observations to make. This one in particular fascinated me:

“It is well that you are English, Nicholas. No Frenchman of family could have married the daughter of a man who had cheated at cards.”

“Even if the girl was good and splendid like Alathea, Duchesse?”

“For that, no, my son, we have little left but our traditions, and our names, and those things matter to us. No, frankly, I could not have permitted the union had you been my son.”

Were the relics of French aristocracy really this severe well into the 20th century? Perhaps they were.

I would have liked one more chapter. Just as with many films of the era, it does end rather abruptly (though of course happily). I suppose even Elinor Glyn couldn’t take us into the marriage bed, but she might have given us a glimpse of the couple a year or so later. Perhaps that’s what our imaginations are for.

There’s a lost 1925 silent movie of this book, and what a pity it is lost because it would be glorious to see a near-contemporary production of it. There’s a still image of it here, and the Gutenberg text of it contains several more production stills.