Marie Corelli

Marie Corelli (pen name of Mary Mackay. May 1st, 1855 –  April 21st, 1924) was an English writer.

Corelli was the illegitimate daughter of the Scottish writer Charles Mackay with his then servant Elizabeth Mills. In 1866, when Corelli was eleven, she was sent to study in a convent in Paris, where she remained until 1870.

In the early 1870’s, she started to send poems and stories for publication, without much success. Shortly after her mother died in 1876, Corelli and her childhood friend Bertha Vyver started to live together, in a love relationship that would last for her entire life. Bertha called Marie “the wee one” and “my wee pet”, and Marie called her “Mamasita” and “my darling Ber“. In his book Marie Corelli: the story of a friendship (1955), William Stuart Scott described Corelli and Bertha’s relationship as “in the Damon and Pythias, the David and Jonathan class.”

In 1883, Corelli used her pen name for the first time, for a poem published in The Theatre. In 1884, she started to work as a pianist, giving recitals as Signorina Marie di Corelli, but her musical career did not last long.

Her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds, was published in 1886, to huge success. Her novels were derided by the critics but loved by the public, and outsold her contemporaries Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling. She is said to have been one of the favourite writers of Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill.

Corelli was considered an eccentric, known for crossing the Avon in a gondola she had brought from Venice. Her life inspired Elizabeth Taylor’s novel Angel (1957) and François Ozon’s film Angel (2007, IMDb). She was friends with Ellen Terry, Sarah Bernhardt, Alice Meynall, George Meredith, and Ella Wheeler Wilcox, among others.

Politically, Corelli held opinions perceived as contradictory: while condemning the woman’s cause and suffragism, she was a fierce critic of the institution of marriage and of the way women were handled as property: “What is marriage? Many of you have, I think, forgotten. It is not the Church, the ritual, the blessing of clergymen, or the ratifying and approving presence of one’s friends and relations at the ceremony. (…) Nothing can make marriage an absolutely sacred thing except the great love“, she wrote in The Modern Marriage Market (1899).

Corelli died of heart disease in 1924. She was one of the most popular authors of her time, but remains now largely forgotten. In The Books in My Life (1969), Henry Miller wrote about her: “If there is a revival of her work, be assured that she will be as much reviled and condemned now as she was in her lifetime. Marie Corelli makes of you either an addict or a sworn enemy.

Books

Novels

  • A Romance of Two Worlds (1886)
  • Vendetta!; or, The Story of One Forgotten (1886)
  • Thelma (1887)
  • Ardath (1889)
  • Wormwood: A Drama of Paris (1890)
  • The Soul of Lilith (1892)
  • Barabbas, A Dream of the World’s Tragedy (1893)
  • The Sorrows of Satan (1895)
  • The Mighty Atom (1896)
  • The Murder of Delicia (1896)
  • Ziska: The Problem of a Wicked Soul (1897)
  • Boy (1900)
  • Jane (1900)
  • The Master-Christian (1900)
  • Temporal Power: a Study in Supremacy (1902)
  • God’s Good Man (1904)
  • The Strange Visitation of Josiah McNasson: A Ghost Story (1904)
  • Treasure of Heaven (1906)
  • Holy Orders, The Tragedy of a Quiet Life (1908)
  • Life Everlasting (1911)
  • Innocent: Her Fancy and His Fact (1914)
  • The Young Diana (1918)
  • The Secret Power (1921)
  • Love and the Philosopher (1923)
  • Open Confession to a Man from a Woman (1925)

Short story collections

  • Cameos: Short Stories (1896)
  • The Song of Miriam & Other Stories (1898)
  • A Christmas Greeting (1902)
  • Delicia & Other Stories (1907)
  • The Love of Long Ago, and Other Stories (1918)

Poetry

  • Poems(1925)

Non-fiction

  • The Modern Marriage Market (1898)
  • Free Opinions Freely Expressed (1905)
  • The Silver Domino; or, Side Whispers, Social & Literary (1892)

Anthologies

About her

  • Marie Corelli: the Writer and the Woman, by T. F. G. Coates and R. S. Warren Bell (1903)
  • Memoirs of Marie Corelli, by Bertha Vyver (1930)
  • Marie Corelli, the woman and the legend: a biography, by Eileen Bigland (1953)
  • Marie Corelli: the story of a friendship, by William Stuart Scott (1955)
  • Now Barabbas was a rotter: the extraordinary life of Marie Corelli, by Brian Masters (1978)
  • The Mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers, by Teresa Ransom (1999)
  • Idol of suburbia: Marie Corelli and late-Victorian literary culture, by Annette Frederico (2000)
  • Reinventing Marie Corelli for the twenty-first century, ed. Brenda Ayres and Sarah E. Maier (2019)

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2 thoughts on “Marie Corelli

    1. Thank you, Simon! I’ve read some of her stories – I like the atmosphere in some of them, but her style can be a bit too florid for me. I am currently reading her Sorrows of Satan, and will try to write about it later.

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