Marie Corelli

The author Marie Corelli (1855 - 1924) was described in The Spectator as: "a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, & was accepted as a genius by a public to whose commonplace sentimentalities & prejudices she gave a glamorous setting." Her blend of romance, mysticism, religion, the occult, new age philosophy and sentimentality may have been derided by critics, but her novels were devoured and adored by the public: ranging from shop girls to royalty, including Queen Victoria who collected all of her books. Her ninth and most successful novel, The Sorrows of Satan (1895) broke all previous records in British publishing history and is regarded as one of the first international bestsellers. She became the highest paid published author in England and sold more copies than many of her literary heavyweight contemporaries combined, including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling. However, despite Corelli’s commercial success in her own lifetime, today, she has all but vanished from our literary landscape.

Corelli’s personal life was as eccentric as many of her novels. Born Isabella Mary Mackay, the illegitimate daughter of journalist, author and poet Charles Mackay, she adopted her nom de plume, Marie Corelli, during a brief period in her life when she attempted to make her living from singing. Corelli never married and it is widely accepted that she was in a lesbian relationship with her companion for over 40 years, Bertha Vyver. She was also known to boat along the River Avon in a Gondola with a Gondolier she had brought over from Venice.

Although The Sorrows of Satan was championed by Oscar Wilde and her novel Ardath (1889) drew praise from Tennyson, her lasting legacy is, arguably, more for her work in conservation than her literary prowess. During her final years, in her adopted hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, she fought to preserve his shrine in the Church of the Holy Trinity and prevent cottages owned by his descendants from being demolished to make way for a Carnegie library. She, also, bought and restored a 16th-century house, Mason Croft, which is now the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham.

The book in the photographs is a first edition of Corelli’s twentieth novel, Innocent, which was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1914.

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