Marie Corelli

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Marie Corelli
Born Mary Mackay
1 May 1855 (1855-05)
Died 24 April 1924(1924-04-24) (aged 68)
Occupation Novelist
Nationality British
Genre Gothic, Fantasy, Scientific romance
Relatives Charles Mackay (father)

Signature File:Signature of Marie Corelli.jpg

Marie Corelli (/kɔːˈrɛli/;[1] 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."[2]

Life and writings

File:Miss Marie Corelli and her pet dog.jpg
Miss Marie Corelli and her pet dog

Mary Mackay was born in London to Elizabeth Mills, a servant of the Scottish poet and songwriter Dr. Charles Mackay, the child's biological father.[3] 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.[4]

Mackay 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." [5]James Agate represented her as combining "the imagination of a Poe with the style of an Ouida and the mentality of a nursemaid."[6]

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 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 Braemar Highland 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.[7]

File:Mason Croft.jpg
Marie Corelli, Novelist and protector of local heritage, lived and died here, 1901–1924. Her house, Mason Croft, still stands on Church Street and is now the home of the Shakespeare Institute.

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.[8] Novelist Barbara Comyns Carr mentions Corelli's guest appearance at an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon items found at Bidford-on-Avon in 1923.[9]

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.[10] 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 her companion, Bertha Vyver;[11] when she died she left everything to her friend. Although she didn't self-identify as a lesbian, biographers and critics have noted the erotic descriptions of female beauty that appear regularly in Corelli's novels, while admitting they are expressed by men.[12][13][14] 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:[15]

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 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, 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.[16][17][18]

During the First World War, Corelli's reputation suffered when she was convicted of food hoarding.[19]


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.

File:Evesham Road cemetery.jpg
Marie Corelli died in Stratford and is buried there in the Evesham Road cemetery. Later Bertha van der Vyver was buried alongside her.

It is also most probable that Corelli was the inspiration for "Rita's" (Eliza Humphreys') 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, who later published the "Lucia" Lucas novels.[20]

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."[21]





  1. "Corelli". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. Kirsten McLeod, introduction to Marie Corelli's Wormwood: a drama of Paris, p. 9
  3. Marie Corelli in Encyclopaedia Britannica
  4. Coates & Warren Bell (1969)
  5. Scott, p. 30
  6. Scott, p. 263
  7. Ransom (2013), p. 100
  8. The New York Times, 28 June 1903
  9. Comyns Carr (1985), p. 124
  10. Venice Boats
  11. Frederico, pp. 162–186
  12. Felski, pp. 130–131
  13. Frederico, p. 116
  14. Masters, p. 277
  15. Frederico, p. 175
  16. MacLeod, p. 21
  17. Frederico, p. 144
  18. Julia Kuehn, "Marie Corelli’s Love Letters to Arthur Severn"
  19. "BBC One - Britain's Great War". BBC. 10 February 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Rita" The Forgotten Author. By Paul Jones L.R.P.S.
  21. "Interviews about Angel: François Ozon - Romola Garai - Michael Fassbender". François Ozon. Retrieved 4 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 85.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Felski, Rita (1995). The Gender of Modernity. Cambridge: Harvard U P. p. 247.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Frederico, Annette (2000). Idol of suburbia: Marie Corelli and late-Victorian literary culture. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. p. 201.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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)

External links