The It Girls

Written by Karen Harper
Review by Cynthia Slocum

Lucy and Elinor Sutherland have big dreams that seem far-fetched for girls growing up on the Isle of Jersey in the late 1800s, but after moving to London they seize the opportunity to mingle with high society and to make the most of their creative talents, ultimately forging unprecedented international careers.

This biographical novel outlines the remarkable lives of Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, whose imaginative fashion designs led the way to a daring, corset-less style of dressing for women in the early years of the 20th century, and her younger sibling Elinor Glyn, whose romance novels shocked and entranced readers with their bold sensuality. Both possess a will to succeed and buoyant confidence that enable them to break free of the restrictive social norms of their time and remain resilient despite disappointment, betrayal, scandal, and fluctuating fortunes.

These ambitious women’s paths intersect with several notable people and events spanning from the twilight of Queen Victoria’s reign to the 1920s heyday of silent films. Their marriages, love affairs, and professional accomplishments during approximately three decades are deftly condensed into a series of key moments that reveal their personalities and inner thoughts. An unspoken rivalry between the sisters forms the story’s core tension, which is satisfyingly resolved. Although their self-absorption makes them unsympathetic characters at times, Lucy and Elinor are exceptional individuals, and this book offers some surprising details to depict the verve and colorful experiences of two nearly forgotten figures who influenced trends in fashion and attitudes about romantic passion.