1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Corelli, Marie

CORELLI, MARIE (1864–  ), English novelist, was the daughter of an Italian father and a Scottish mother, but in infancy was adopted by Charles Mackay (q.v.), the song-writer and journalist, whose son Eric, at his death, became her guardian. She was sent to be educated in a French convent with the object of training her for the musical profession, and while still a girl composed various pieces of music. But her journalistic connexion proved a stronger stimulus to expression, and editors who were friends of her adopted father printed some of her early poetry. Then she produced what was at least a clever, if not a remarkably well written, romantic story, on the theme of a self-revelation connecting the Christian Deity with a world force in the form of electricity, which was published in 1886 under the title of A Romance of Two Worlds. It had an immediate and large sale, which resulted, naturally, in her devoting her inventive faculty to satisfy the public demand for similar work. Thus she wrote in succession a series of melodramatic romantic novels, original in some aspects of their treatment, daring in others, but all combining a readable plot with enough au fond of what the majority demanded in ethical and religious correctness to suit a widespread contemporary taste; these were Vendetta (1886), Thelma (1887), Ardath (1889), The Soul of Lilith (1892), Barabbas (1893), The Sorrows of Satan (1895),—the very titles were catching,—The Mighty Atom (1896),—which appealed to all who knew enough of modern science to wish to think it wicked,—and others, down to The Master Christian (1900), again satisfying the socio-ethico-religious demand, and Temporal Power (1902), with its contemporary suggestion from the accession of Edward VII. Miss Corelli had the advantage of writing quite sincerely and with conviction, amid what superior critics sneered at as bad style and sensationalism, on themes which conventional readers nevertheless enjoyed, and round plots which were dramatic and vigorous. Her popular success was great and advertised itself. It was helped by a well-spread belief that Queen Victoria preferred her novels to any other. Reviewers wrote sarcastically, and justly, of her obvious literary lapses and failings; she retorted by pitying the poor reviewers and letting it be understood that no books of hers were sent to the Press for criticism. When she went to live at Stratford-on-Avon, her personality, and her importance in the literary world, became further allied with the historic associations of the place; and in the public life of women writers her utterances had the réclame which is emphasized by journalistic publicity. Such success is not to be gauged by purely literary standards; the popularity of Miss Corelli’s novels is a phenomenon not so much of literature as of literary energy—entirely creditable to the journalistic resource of the writer, and characteristic of contemporary pleasure in readable fiction.