The Sorrows of Satan  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Sorrows of Satan is an 1895 faustian novel by Marie Corelli. It is widely regarded as one of the world's first bestsellers, partly due to an upheaval in the system British libraries used to purchase their books and partly due to its popular appeal. Roundly condemned by critics for Corelli's moralistic and prosaic style it nonetheless had strong supporters in Oscar Wilde and various members of royalty.

Widely ignored in literary circles, it is increasingly regarded as an influential fin de siècle text. The book is occasionally subtitled "Or the Strange Experience of one Geoffrey Tempest, Millionaire".

The novel was adpated for cinema at least twice, by D. W. Griffith as The Sorrows of Satan (1926), as Blade af Satans bog (aka Leaves from Satan's Book) (1919) by Carl Theodor Dreyer .

Plot summary

On the surface the plot follows the story of a penniless, starving author called Geoffrey Tempest. So poor that he is behind on his rent and can barely afford light in his room, he receives three letters. The first is from a friend in Australia who has made his fortune and offers to introduce him to a good friend who might be able to lift him from poverty. The second is a note from a solicitor detailing that he has inherited a fortune from a deceased relative, the third is a letter of introduction from a foreign aristocrat called Lucio, who befriends him and proceeds to be his guide in how to best use his new found wealth.

Tempest remains blissfully unaware throughout the novel, despite warnings from people he meets, that Lucio is the Earthly incarnation of the devil. Over the course of the book, his wealth leads to misery. Eventually, when confronted with the true nature of his companion, he renounces evil and returns to society penniless but content with the chance to purify his soul.

Although the plot follows Tempest's fall from grace and redemption, he is in many regards a secondary character to Lucio. Both the title of the work and much of its philosophical content relate to the supreme yearning within Satan to achieve salvation. The book's main contribution to Faustian literature is the introduction of the concept that above all other people it is Satan who most truly believes in the Christian message - and yet he is forbidden to ever partake of it.

Major themes

The novel is notable for its attempts to mix Christian thought with popular themes of the day, such as reincarnation and Theosophy or Blavatskyism. It is also a damning critique of the time's social structure -- claiming both that Britain's elite are morally bankrupt and hinting an allegiance to ideals that soon gained in prominence after its publication (such as women's suffrage and the universal welfare state). It also touches on other issues, from the nature of appearance versus reality to the role of poverty in fostering true talent. Corelli is particularly scathing of literary critics (perhaps accounting for their dislike of the work) judging that the only true measure of a book's success is whether common people will buy and read it.

Other notes

  • The name Mavis was invented for the book and is arguably used as a pseudonym for Corelli when she appears as a character.
  • Satan is only successful in seducing Tempest on his second attempt (which may explain why he survives the book, where other characters do not). The first attempted seduction is when as a publisher he offers to buy Tempest a meal, which due to personal pride, Tempest rejects.
  • See also the 1926 film The Sorrows of Satan.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Sorrows of Satan" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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