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The biography of a turn-of-the-20th-century author whose now forgotten mystical and romantic novels were bestsellers in England and around the world until WWII. According to Ransom (Fanny Trollope, not reviewed), the world-famous Marie Corelli may not have been Corelli at all, but Mary Mills or perhaps Minnie Mackay, the adopted or illegitimate daughter of journalist Charles Mackay, himself a well-known figure in 19th-century England. Then again, she may have been his granddaughter. Or left on his doorstep “one snowy winter’s night.” Whatever her true lineage, she set out to be “somebody” and succeeded. Her 31 novels and assorted articles, booklets, and speeches were almost always blasted by critics and embraced by readers and audiences. The extraordinarily healthy sales of her books should also be judged against her contemporaries: H. Rider Haggard, H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde. Her fans included Queen Victoria, who requested that all of Corelli’s books be sent to her, and her friend the Prince of Wales. Her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds, was accepted for publication in 1885 when she was 30 years old. It concerned a heroine who was sent via “Physical Electricity” to visit other planets. Subsequent novels also dealt with mystical and spiritual experiences, but many deplored mankind’s weaknesses (absinthe addiction in Wormwood) or celebrated womankind’s strengths, although she was an ambivalent feminist (against the vote but for independence). She was prescient about atomic power, germ warfare, sex education in schools, and historic preservation. Settled in Stratford-on-Avon with her lifelong friend Bertha van der Vyver, she antagonized the town fathers with her fight to preserve Shakespeare-era cottages and continued to scuffle with them through WWI. Corelli died in 1924, but her books had a brief New Age revival in the 1960s. The author has struggled to piece together fragmented historical material, for which Victorian scholars will be grateful. (12 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7509-1570-6
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999