Marie Corelli Born Mary Mackay
1 May 1855
Died 24 April 1924 (aged 68)
Occupation Novelist Nationality British Genres Gothic, Fantasy, Scientific romance Relative(s) Charles Mackay
Marie Corelli (1 May 1855 – 21 April 1924) was a British novelist. 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."
Born Mary Mackay in London, she was the illegitimate daughter of the Scottish poet and songwriter, Dr. Charles Mackay, and his servant, Elizabeth Mills. In 1866, the 11 year old Mary Mackay 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. She gave up music, turning to writing instead and in 1886 published her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds. In her time, she was the most widely read author of fiction. Her works were collected by members of the British Royal Family, and by Winston and Randolph Churchill, among others.
Mackay faced criticism from the literary elite for her overly melodramatic writing. Grant Allen in the pages of The Spectator, 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. Her books were a part of the foundation of today's New Age religion. Her portrait was painted by Helen Donald-Smith.
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 facades. 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 that 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. She died in Stratford and is buried there in the Evesham Road cemetery. Her house, Mason Croft, still stands on Church Street and is now the home of the Shakespeare Institute.
For over forty years, Corelli lived with Vyver her companion Bertha Vyver. and the author left everything to her friend when she died. Although Corelli did not self identify as a lesbian, biographers and critics have noted the erotic descriptions of female beauty that appear regularly in Corelli's novels. Descriptions of the deep love between the two women by their contemporaries have added to the speculation that their relationship may have been romantic. Following Corelli's death, Sidney Walton reminisced in the Yorkshire Evening News:
One of the great friendships of modern times knit together the hearts and minds of Miss Marie Corelli and Miss Bertha Vyver... Her own heart was the hearth of her comrade, and thought and love of 'Marie' thrilled through Miss Vyver's veins... In loneliness of soul, Miss Vyver mourns the loss of one who was nearer and tenderer to her than a sister... Over the fireplace in the fine, old spacious lounge at Mason Croft the initials M. C. and B. V. were carven into one symbol. And it was the symbol of life.
Corelli also expressed a 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, Arthur Severn and Corelli 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 and, in fact, Severn often belittled Corelli's success.
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, to see her name reported in the social columns, and 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. The character of Miss Susan Leg is an author of highly successful but pulpish romance novels who writes under the name of Rudolph da Vinci and first appears in Benson's work a few years after Marie Corelli's death in 1924.
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 best-sellers 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 Word's Tragedy (1893)
- The Sorrows of Satan (1895)
- The Mighty Atom (1896)
- The Murder of Delicia (1896)
- Ziska (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)
Short story collections
- Cameos: Short Stories (1895)
- The Song of Miriam & Other Stories (1898)
- 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 (1915)
- Thelma (1916) Fox Film 1918, I.B. Davidson 1922 Chester Bennett
- Wormwood (1915) Fox
- Temporal Power (1916) G.B. Samuelson
- God's Good Man (1919) Stoll Films
- Holy Orders (1917) I.B. Davidson
- Innocent (1921) Stoll Films
- The Young Diana (1922) Paramount Pictures
- The Sorrows of Satan (1926) Paramount
- Vendetta (2007) Adapted by Gillian Hiscott The Library Theatre Ltd; published by Jasper
- The Young Diana (2008) Gillian Hiscott; published by Jasper
- ^ Kirsten McLeod. Introduction. Wormwood: a drama of Paris by Marie Corelli, p. 9
- ^ Coates, T.F.G. and R.S. Warren Bell. Marie Corelli: the Writer and the Woman. George W. Jacobs & Co.: Philadelphia, 1903. Reprinted by Health Research, 1969.
- ^ Marie Corelli: the story of a friendship by William Stuart Scott. Hutchinson (1955) p30
- ^ Marie Corelli: the story of a friendship by William Stuart Scott. Hutchinson (1955) p263
- ^ The New York Times, 28 June 1903
- ^ See Barbara Comyns Carr, Sisters by a river, Published by the Virago Press 1985 (page 124) (first published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1947)
- ^ Venice Boats
- ^ Annette Frederico, Who was Marie Corelli? Idol of Suburbia, pp162–186
- ^ Rita Felski, The Gender of Modernity. pp130–131
- ^ Annette Frederico, Idol of suburbia, p116
- ^ Brian Masters, Now Barabbas was a Rotter, p277
- ^ Annette Frederico, Idol of suburbia, p175
- ^ MacLeod p21
- ^ Frederico p144
- ^ Julia Keuhn, "Marie Corelli’s Love Letters to Arthur Severn"
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 85.
- 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. pp. 326.
- Felski, Rita (1995). The Gender of Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard U P. pp. 247.
- Frederico, Annette (2000). Idol of suburbia: Marie Corelli and late-Victorian literary culture. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P. pp. 201.
- Works by Marie Corelli at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions color illustrated)
- Works by Marie Corelli at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)
- Works by or about Marie Corelli in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Archival material relating to Marie Corelli listed at the UK National Register of Archives
- Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Marie Corelli & her Occult Tales, 1998
- Private Collection, "A rare collection of signed books, letters and personal items from Marie, also complete Bibliography." 2004
- Marie Corelli's Wormwood- At The Virtual Absinthe Museum: Photographs of the rare 1890 London first edition, and extensive extracts from the book downloadable in PDF format.
- "The Devil's Motor," illustrated by Arthur Severn.
- Marie Corelli Collection at Yale University Music Library
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