Marie Corelli (1855-1924) was an eccentric, British Victorian best-selling author. She sold more books than the combined sales of popular contemporaries including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling! Her works were collected by Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill, Queen Victoria and other members of the British Royal family. Amongst her friends and supporters were a long list of celebrities like Sarah Bernhardt and Sir Henry Irving.
Corelli lived in Stratford-upon-Avon, sharing her hometown with none other than William Shakespeare. During her career, working as a best-selling author, people actually came to Stratford-upon-Avon because of her, not Shakespeare. These details of her life showed how famous Marie Corelli was. Yet, nobody hears about Corelli today, let alone her books! So how, or why, was she allowed to disappear from history and our cultural memory?
Twenty years ago, my grandmother (The Hidden Camino) gave me a copy of Marie Corelli's book A Romance Between Two Worlds (in Danish: 'To verdener'.) The book was old and worn down as it had been passed on to her from her mother-in-law. As my grandmother had no daughters of her own, she passed the book on to me.
I think I was too young to really appreciate the book when I first read it, but I remember my grandmother spoke quite a bit about Marie Corelli during my visits - I actually think her mother-in-law had met the author in England at one point. However, a few weeks ago, I started thinking about the book again and began wondering why my grandmother had found Corelli's books so interesting (my grandmother had read several of Corelli's books as an adult.) Eventually I found my old copy of A Romance Between Two Worlds and began reading it again. This time, I understood the story very differently! I certainly liked the book much more and her liberated way of thinking.
Curious about who Maria Corelli was, I began researching her and was astonished to discover that this extraordinary woman had been allowed to disappear from Victorian history. However, it didn't take long before I started to find aspects about Corelli that not only would give clues to her disappearance, it would also explain why she had been treated with such contempt.
Maria Corelli is repeatedly described as an intelligent woman who dared to speak her own mind and live as she pleased. Corelli exercised throughout her entire life, the freedom to exist in her own right and lived openly as a lesbian (as much as you could be in those days, I suppose.) For a woman to be connected to any of these issues does not come without paying the price of judgement, hate and projected fear. Especially not when you are born in the 19th century.
Corelli was a Rosicrucian, as was the great composer Claude Debussy and singer Edith Piaf. I know next to nothing about Rosicrucian's, neither is it clear how involved Corelli was in this organisation, so I can't judge whether the influence of their philosophy shows up in her written works.
If you would like to learn more about Marie Corelli, I suggest you visit www.mariecorelli.org.uk which is a website dedicated to the life and legacy of her. The creator and administrator of the website, Nick Birch, told me in an email exchange, that the group behind this website were preparing lots of new material which will be posted in the near future. On this note, I would like to acknowledge the hard work Nick and his group have put into this project.
If you like audio books, two of Marie Corelli's books are available via Youtube for free. A Romance Between Two Worlds is the most famous of the two. I am at the moment listening to Ziska myself. So enjoy, dear friends!
'A Romance Between Two Worlds' by Marie Corelli
'Ziska' by Marie Corelli