Novelist, daughter of Charles Mackay, a Scottish poet and song writer. Mary spent her youth in Mickleham, Surrey before moving to London in 1882. She became a talented pianist, using the name Marie Corelli for performances, but turned to writing romantic fiction using the same pseudonym. A romance of two worlds (1886) was her first published novel and she enjoyed popular success from Thelma (1887) onwards, particularly with Barabbas (1893) and The sorrows of Satan (1895). In 1901 she moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, purchasing Mason Croft, a house reputed to have belonged to the daughter of William Shakespeare. Mary Mackay, the person, was somewhat larger than life, as was Marie Corelli, the author. She became a well known figure in the town, entering into local issues with some gusto (see Marie Corelli and the Stratford-upon-Avon controversy), and had her own gondola on the River Avon. Her knack for drawing attention to herself was coupled with her own self-determination and self-appreciation. Her constant companion, Bertha Vyver, wrote an appreciative memoir which was published in 1940.
Her style has been described as over-written exotic romantic fantasy but it was immensely popular, helped by publicity courted by this colourful author. One of her most famous ardent readers was Queen Victoria who seems to have been impressed by the depth to her work. Many critics hated her and the biography written by Thomas Coates and R.S. Warren Bell, published in her lifetime, tries rather too hard to defend her:-
"Marie Corelli is bold: perhaps she is the boldest writer that has ever lived. What she believes she says, with a brilliant fearlessness that sweeps aside petty argument in its giant's stride towards the goal she aims for...It is small wonder, then, that she has not earned the approbation of those critics who are unable to grasp the stupendous nature of her programme".
The overblown characterisations and descriptions made even the thinnest plots come alive and even though her work lacks timeless literary quality Marie Corelli's greatest achievement is that she still commands a place in the study of women's literature.
The following works are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Free opinions freely expressed (1905)
God's good man (1904)
Holy orders (1908)
The innocent; her fancy and his fact (1914)
Life everlasting (1911)
Love and the philosopher (1923)
The master Christian (1900)
The mighty atom (1896)
The murder of Delicia (1896)
A romance of two worlds (1886)
The secret power (1921)
The sorrows of Satan (1895)
Temporal power (1902)
The young Diana (1918)
You may read online here extracts from the following novels of Marie Corelli:-
Many of the novels of Marie Corelli have now been digitised. The Minor Classic Novels website has a list with links to where they may be found.
In the following list of biographical and critical studies the books marked with an asterisk (*) are available in the West Midlands Creative Literature Collection:-
Marie Corelli; the woman and the legend (1953)
Marie Corelli; the life and death of a best-seller (1940)*
Marie Corelli: the writer and the woman (1903)*
Now Barabbas was a rotter; the extraordinary life of Marie Corelli (1978)*
The mysterious Miss Marie Corelli, queen of Victorian bestsellers (1999)
Other online resources include a section devoted to Marie Corelli on the The Victorian Web, edited by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University.
Page created 2 September 2001 and last
updated 5 September 2011
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