From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Marie Corelli (1 May 1855 - 21 April 1924) was a British novelist known for such bestselling novels as A Romance of Two Worlds and The Sorrows of Satan, which was adapted for cinema by D. W. Griffith as The Sorrows of Satan and as Leaves from Satan's Book by Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Born Mary Mackay in London, she was the illegitimate daughter of a well known 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 would only return to the United Kingdom four years later in 1870.
Mary 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 but came under harsh criticism from many of the literary elite for her overly melodramatic and emotional writing. Despite this, her works were collected by members of the British Royal Family, and by Winston and Randolph Churchill, amongst others.
Professional critics deplored her books. The Jacqueline Susann of her time, her difficult ego and huge sales inspired some quotable moments of spite. Grant Allen called her, in the pages of The Spectator, "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 throughout Corelli's books was her attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral projection and other mystical topics. Her books were a very important part of the foundation of today's New Age religion, some of whose adherents say that Corelli was "inspired". 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. Her eccentricity became legendary, however, and she caused much amusement by boating on the Avon in a gondola, complete with gondolier, that she had brought over from Venice. In his Autobiography, Mark Twain describes a visit he made to Corelli in Stratford and how it augmented his preexisting aversion to her personality. 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.
Some have claimed that she was homosexual, because she shared her mansion with her lifelong friend Bertha Vyver. This fact may be countered by evidence of her passion in later years for Arthur Severn. Furthermore, the woman she lived with - and is characterized by gay activists as Corelli's "long-time companion" - was actually an adopted sister, an orphan whose appearance among Corelli's family as a small child fostered a lifelong friendship between the two women which was more filial than sapphic. Late in life Corelli became an active opponent of homosexuality, being closely associated with the campaigns against it by Noel Pemberton Billing.
In 2006 Gillian Hiscott's adaptation of Vendetta was performed at British Theatre festivals including the Edinburgh Festival. She has also adapted The Young Diana, which also uses text sources from novels by Dame Barbara Cartland. Both plays are published and remain available for performance.
- 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)
- Byron Loquitur (1892)
- Three Wise Men of Gotham (1895)
- The Distant Voice (1895)
- Nehemiah P. Hoskins, Artist (1895)
- An Old Bundle (1895)
- Mademoiselle Zephyr (1895)
- Tiny Tramps (1895)
- The Distant Voice: A Fact or Fancy (1895)
- The Withering of a Rose (1895)
- The Lady with the Carnations (1895)
- Angel's Wickedness (1895)
- My Wonderful Wife (1895)
- The Despised Angel: An Allegory (1907)
- The Soul of the Newly Born
- God's Light on the Mountains
- The Devil's Motor: A Fantasy (1910)
- The Modern Marriage Market (1898) (with others)
- Free Opinions Freely Expressed (1905)
- The Silver Domino; or, Side Whispers, Social & Literary (1892) (anonymous)