Red Hair, aka The Vicissitudes of Evangeline (1905) is a beautifully written, sparkling book.
However, the plot is the equivalent of Elizabeth Bennet marrying Mr Bingley instead of Mr Darcy. If you can stomach that, you’ll enjoy this book. Or at least the first half of it.
It seems clear to me that Elinor Glyn changed her mind about the hero about half way through. Initially all the attraction and chemistry is set up between Evangeline and Mr Carruthers:
There was Mr. Carruthers in the hall. A horribly nice-looking, tall man, with a clean-shaven face and features cut out of stone, a square chin, and a nasty twinkle in the corner of his eye. He has a very distinguished look, and that air of never having had to worry for his things to fit; they appear as if they had grown on him. He has a cold, reserved manner, and something commanding and arrogant in it that makes one want to contradict him at once; but his voice is charming—one of that cultivated, refined kind, which sounds as if he spoke a number of languages, and so does not slur his words. I believe this is diplomatic, for some of the old ambassador people had this sort of voice.
If that’s not Darcy, I don’t know what is.
And when Carruthers and his friend Robert are described next to one another, it’s pretty clear who comes out on top (clue: the hero in a Romance is always the tallest and most alpha, not the pretty boy):
Mr. Carruthers is the taller—about one inch. He must be a good deal over six feet, because the other one is very tall, too; but now that one saw them together, Mr. Carruthers’s figure appeared stiff and set besides Lord Robert’s, and he hasn’t got nearly such a little waist. But they really are lovely creatures, both of them, and I don’t yet know which I like best.
Really? Because we the reader sure as hell know which fellow we’re rooting for. And it ain’t the short one with the tiny waist.
Anyway, I’ve pretty much spoiled the plot but you’re better off knowing in advance, or you’ll keep hoping and just end up really disillusioned by the end, as I did. I was still hoping by the final chapter for the girl to see some sense.
What makes this a great read is the writing. It dances off the page. Evangeline is a wonderful narrator and the book is highly comedic (and very risqué for its time):
“Mrs. Carruthers said all honeymoons were only another parallel to going to the dentist or being photographed. Necessary evils to be got through for the sake of the results.”
“Yes, the nice house and the jewels and the other things.”
“Oh! Yes, I suppose she was right, but if one had married Robert one would have had both.” She did not say both what—but oh, I knew!
Unmarried girls at that time were not supposed to have any clue about “the other things”!
Lady Ver (Verningham) is also a glorious “frenemy”.
So ultimately it’s highly enjoyable, but hold onto your heart because you’re not going to get the story you want. I guess she ends up a Duchess-to-be, and perhaps she’ll end up preferring that to “the other things”.