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Introduction to Marie Corelli.
In the 1890’s Marie Corelli’s novels were eagerly devoured by millions in England, America and the colonies. Her readers ranged from Queen Victoria and Gladstone, to the poorest of shop girls. In all she wrote thirty books, the majority of which were phenomenal best sellers. Despite the fact that her novels were either ignored or belittled by the critics, at the height of her success she was the best selling and most highly paid author in England.
Following her death in 1924, the news headlines shrieked, ‘Who was Marie Corelli?’ Her past was concealed by the fog of so much obfuscation and rumor that it was impossible to discover the truth, and some facts concerning her origin are still open to question.
Born in 1855 as Mary Mackay, alleged to have been the illegitimate daughter of her father Charles Mackay, she was desperate to escape the shame of birth. By the time she published her first novel in 1886, The Romance of Two Worlds, she had adopted a different story of her origins, and changed her name to Marie Corelli.
She rapidly achieved popular success with her books, and wrote one of the first best-sellers published in a single-volume, The Sorrows of Satan in 1895, defining the format of the modern novel.
In 1899, after a serious illness and sick of the ‘spite and meanness’ in London, she moved to Stratford-upon-Avon with her devoted companion, Bertha Vyver. In Stratford, Marie Corelli took up the cause of protecting Shakespeare’s legacy, opened fetes, and discovered a gift for public speaking. Unfortunately the eager enthusiasm with which she got involved in local issues, and an apparent lack of sensitivity did not endear her to many of the town’s male dominated hierarchy. Nevertheless, she bestowed money on many worthy causes, and became one of the first true conservationists, preserving the towns heritage.
When she died on the 21st April 1924 crowds gathered outside her home, Mason Croft. The press capitalised on her outstanding popularity, but lacking many hard facts they invented stories about her origins. Her faithful companion, Bertha, survived her until 1942 following which the house and contents were sold at auction. Fortunately a large collection of documents, including manuscripts, letters, and photographs reside in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archives in Stratford-upon-Avon, and her house is now occupied by the Shakespeare Institute.
Today she is once again being recognised for her extraordinary place in Victorian literary society, and by her adopted home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Her ability to captivate the reading public of her age is a subject of academic study in an attempt to re-examine and re-define her literary legacy.
Marie Corelli's Writing.
Please go to the works page for a chronological list of Marie Corelli's published books, articles and pamphlets. Sub-sections include further information on her novels, non-fiction, and quotations.
Born: 1st May 1855, London.
Died: 21st April 1924, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Origin: British, (claimed to be part Scottish and Italian).
Works: 25 novels, books of short stories, poems, plus numerous articles, and pamphlets.
Genre: Romance, spiritualism, mysticism, fantasy, science, religion.
Homes: Box Hill in Surrey, Longridge Road near Earls Court in London, and, from 1899 to 1924, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.
Marie Corelli (; 1 May 1855 – 21 April 1924) was an English novelist and mystic.
She enjoyed a period of great literary success from the publication of her first novel in 1886 until World War I. Corelli's novels sold more copies than the combined sales of popular contemporaries, including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling, although critics often derided her work as "the favourite of the common multitude".
Life and writings
Mary Mackay was born in London to Elizabeth Mills, a servant of the Scottish poet and songwriter Dr Charles Mackay, her biological father. In 1866, eleven-year-old Mary was sent to a Parisian convent to further her education. She returned to Britain four years later in 1870.
Mackay began her career as a musician, adopting the name Marie Corelli for her billing. Eventually she turned to writing and published her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds, in 1886. In her time, she was the most widely read author of fiction. Her works were collected by Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill, and members of the British Royal Family, among others.
She faced criticism from the literary elite for her overly melodramatic writing. In The Spectator, Grant Allen called her "a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, and was accepted as a genius by a public to whose commonplace sentimentalities and prejudices she gave a glamorous setting." James Agate represented her as combining "the imagination of a Poe with the style of an Ouida and the mentality of a nursemaid."
A recurring theme in Corelli's books is her attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral projection, and other mystical ideas. She was associated at some point with the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis; a Rosicrucian and mystical organization., and her books were a part of the foundation of today's corpus of esoteric philosophy. Her portrait was painted by Helen Donald-Smith.
Corelli famously had little time for the press. In 1902 she wrote to the editor of The Gentlewoman to complain that her name had been left out of a list of the guests in the Royal Enclosure at the BraemarHighland Gathering, saying she suspected this had been done intentionally. The editor replied that her name had indeed been left out intentionally, because of her own stated contempt for the press and for the snobbery of those wishing to appear in "news puffs" of society events. Both letters were published in full in the next issue.
Corelli spent her final years in Stratford-upon-Avon. There she fought hard for the preservation of Stratford's 17th-century buildings, and donated money to help their owners remove the plaster or brickwork that often covered their original timber-framed façades. Novelist Barbara Comyns Carr mentions Corelli's guest appearance at an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon items found at Bidford-on-Avon in 1923. Corelli's eccentricity became well known. She would boat on the Avon in a gondola, complete with a gondolier, whom she had brought over from Venice. In his autobiography, Mark Twain, who had a deep dislike of Corelli, describes visiting her in Stratford and how the meeting changed his perception.
For over forty years, Corelli lived with her companion, Bertha Vyver, to whom she left everything when she died. She did not identify herself as a lesbian, but several biographers and critics have noted the frequent erotic descriptions of female beauty that appear in her novels, although they are expressed by men.
Corelli was known to have expressed a genuine passion for the artist Arthur Severn, to whom she wrote daily letters from 1906 to 1917. Severn was the son of Joseph Severn and close friend to John Ruskin. In 1910, she and Severn collaborated on The Devil's Motor, with Severn providing illustrations for Corelli's story. Her love for the long-married painter, her only known romantic attachment to a man, remained unrequited; in fact Severn often belittled Corelli's success.
During the First World War, Corelli's personal reputation suffered from being convicted of food hoarding.
She died in Stratford and is buried there in the Evesham Road cemetery. Later Bertha van der Vyver was buried alongside her.
Corelli is generally accepted to have been the inspiration for at least two of E. F. Benson's characters in his Lucia series of six novels and a short story. The main character, Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas, is a vain and snobbish woman of the upper middle class with an obsessive desire to be the leading light of her community, to associate with the nobility, and to see her name reported in the social columns, coupled with a comical pretension to education and musical talent, neither of which she possesses. She also pretends to be able to speak Italian, something Corelli was known to have done. Miss Susan Leg is a highly successful writer of pulp romances under the pseudonym Rudolph da Vinci. The character makes her appearance in Benson's work a few years after Marie Corelli's death in 1924.
A modern critic has written that Corelli was probably also the inspiration for "Rita's" (Eliza Humphreys's) main character in Diana of the Ephesians, which was published a year before E. F. Benson's first Lucia novel, and had been rejected by Hutchinson, which later published the "Lucia" Lucas novels.
In 2007, the British film Angel, based on a book by Elizabeth Taylor, was released as a thinly-veiled biography of Corelli. The film starred Romola Garai in the Corelli role and also starred Sam Neill and Charlotte Rampling. It was directed by François Ozon, who stated, "The character of Angel was inspired by Marie Corelli, a contemporary of Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria's favourite writer. Corelli was one of the first writers to become a star, writing bestsellers for an adoring public. Today she has been totally forgotten, even in England."
- 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 (1895)
- The Song of Miriam & Other Stories (1898)
- A Christmas Greeting (1902)
- Delicia & Other Stories (1907)
- The Love of Long Ago, and Other Stories (1918)
- The Modern Marriage Market (1898) (with others)
- Free Opinions Freely Expressed (1905)
- The Silver Domino; or, Side Whispers, Social & Literary (1892) (anonymous)
- Vendetta (2007) Adapted by Gillian Hiscott The Library Theatre Ltd; published by Jasper
- The Young Diana (2008) Gillian Hiscott; published by Jasper
- ^"Corelli". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
- ^Marie Corelli in Encyclopædia Britannica.
- ^Coates & Warren Bell (1969)
- ^Scott, p. 30.
- ^Scott, p. 263.
- ^Kirsten McLeod, introduction to Marie Corelli's Wormwood: a drama of Paris, p. 9
- ^Schrodter, Willy. A Rosicrucian Notebook: The Secret Sciences Used by Members of the Order (illustrated ed.). Weiser Books, 1992. p. 293. ISBN 9780877287575. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
- ^"Who was Marie Corelli?". rosicrucian.50webs.com. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
- ^"Understanding reincarnation & esoteric teachings of Rosicrucians". The Rosicrucian Order, AMORC. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
- ^Ransom (2013), p. 100.
- ^The New York Times, 28 June 1903.
- ^Comyns Carr (1985), p. 124.
- ^Venice Boats.
- ^Frederico, pp. 162–86.
- ^Felski, pp. 130–31.
- ^Frederico, p. 116.
- ^Masters, p. 277.
- ^MacLeod, p. 21.
- ^Frederico, p. 144.
- ^Julia Kuehn, "Marie Corelli's Love Letters to Arthur Severn".
- ^"BBC One – Britain's Great War". BBC. 10 February 2014. .
- ^Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of more than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3rd ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 9851). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- ^"Rita" The Forgotten Author. By Paul Jones L.R.P.S.
- ^"Interviews about Angel: François Ozon - Romola Garai - Michael Fassbender". François Ozon. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 85.
- Carr, Barbara Comyns, Sisters by a River (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1947; new edition by Virago Press 1985)
- Coates, T. F. G. and R. S. Warren Bell. Marie Corelli: the Writer and the Woman. George W. Jacobs & Co.: Philadelphia, 1903. Reprinted 1969 by Health Research, Mokelume Hill, CA.
- Masters, Brian (1978). Now Barabbas was a rotter: the extraordinary life of Marie Corelli. London: H. Hamilton. p. 326.
- Felski, Rita (1995). The Gender of Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard U P. p. 247.
- Frederico, Annette (2000). Idol of suburbia: Marie Corelli and late-Victorian literary culture. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. p. 201.
- Lyons, Martyn. 2011. Books: a living history. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.
- Ransom, Teresa, The Mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers (2013)
- Scott, William Stuart, Marie Corelli: the story of a friendship (London: Hutchinson, 1955)
- Bigland, Eileen Marie Corelli, the woman and the legend: a biography, Jarrolds, London 1953
- Coates, T. F. G. and R. S. Warren Bell. Marie Corelli: the Writer and the Woman, George W. Jacobs & Co.: Philadelphia, 1903. Reprinted 1969 by Health Research, Mokelume Hill, CA.
- Federico, Annette R. Idol Of Suburbia: Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 2000
- Masters, Brian Now Barabbas was a rotter: the extraordinary life of Marie Corelli, H. Hamilton, London, 1978
- Ransom, Teresa The Mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestellers, Sutton, 1999
- Scott, William Stuart, Marie Corelli: the story of a friendship, London: Hutchinson, 1955
- Vyver, Bertha Memoirs of Marie Corelli, A. Rivers Ltd, 1930