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Introduction to Marie Corelli.

In the 1890’s Marie Corelli’s novels were eagerly devoured by millions in England, America and the colonies. Her readers ranged from Queen Victoria and Gladstone, to the poorest of shop girls. In all she wrote thirty books, the majority of which were phenomenal best sellers. Despite the fact that her novels were either ignored or belittled by the critics, at the height of her success she was the best selling and most highly paid author in England.

Born: 1st May 1855, London.

Died: 21st April 1924, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Origin: British, (claimed to be part Scottish and Italian).

Works: 25 novels, books of short stories, poems, plus numerous articles, and pamphlets.

Genre: Romance, spiritualism, mysticism, fantasy, science, religion.

Homes: Box Hill in Surrey, Longridge Road near Earls Court in London, and, from 1899 to 1924, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.

Following her death in 1924, the news headlines shrieked, ‘Who was Marie Corelli?’ Her past was concealed by the fog of so much obfuscation and rumor that it was impossible to discover the truth, and some facts concerning her origin are still open to question.

Born in 1855 as Mary Mackay, alleged to have been the illegitimate daughter of her father Charles Mackay, she was desperate to escape the shame of birth. By the time she published her first novel in 1886, The Romance of Two Worlds, she had adopted a different story of her origins, and changed her name to Marie Corelli.

She rapidly achieved popular success with her books, and wrote one of the first best-sellers published in a single-volume, The Sorrows of Satan in 1895, defining the format of the modern novel.

In 1899, after a serious illness and sick of the ‘spite and meanness’ in London, she moved to Stratford-upon-Avon with her devoted companion, Bertha Vyver. In Stratford, Marie Corelli took up the cause of protecting Shakespeare’s legacy, opened fetes, and discovered a gift for public speaking. Unfortunately the eager enthusiasm with which she got involved in local issues, and an apparent lack of sensitivity did not endear her to many of the town’s male dominated hierarchy. Nevertheless, she bestowed money on many worthy causes, and became one of the first true conservationists, preserving the towns heritage.

When she died on the 21st April 1924 crowds gathered outside her home, Mason Croft. The press capitalised on her outstanding popularity, but lacking many hard facts they invented stories about her origins. Her faithful companion, Bertha, survived her until 1942 following which the house and contents were sold at auction. Fortunately a large collection of documents, including manuscripts, letters, and photographs reside in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archives in Stratford-upon-Avon, and her house is now occupied by the Shakespeare Institute.

Today she is once again being recognised for her extraordinary place in Victorian literary society, and by her adopted home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. Her ability to captivate the reading public of her age is a subject of academic study in an attempt to re-examine and re-define her literary legacy.

Marie Corelli's Writing.

Please go to the works page for a chronological list of Marie Corelli's published books, articles and pamphlets. Sub-sections include further information on her novels, non-fiction, and quotations.

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© Nick Birch 2013