Mary Mackay was born in London, the illegitimate daughter of Scottish poet and songwriter Dr. Charles Mackay and his servant, Elizabeth Mills. In 1866, eleven-year-old Mary was sent to a Parisian convent to further her education. She returned to Britain four years later in 1870.
Mackay began her career as a musician, adopting the name Marie Corelli for her billing. Eventually she turned to writing and published her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds, in 1886. In her time, she was the most widely read author of fiction. Her works were collected by Winston Churchill, Randolph Churchill, and members of the British Royal Family, among others.
Mackay faced criticism from the literary elite for her overly melodramatic writing. In The Spectator, Grant Allen called her "a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, and was accepted as a genius by a public to whose commonplace sentimentalities and prejudices she gave a glamorous setting." James Agate represented her as combining "the imagination of a Poe with the style of an Ouida and the mentality of a nursemaid."
Bertha Vyver & Marie Corelli are buried together in the main cemetery at Stratford-upon-Avon. Marie Corelli is buried close to the entrance on the Evesham Road. The marble angel that Bertha Vyver had ordered from Italy is set up to watch over her tomb with one outstretched arm pointing the way to heaven. Bertha died in 1941, aged 87, and is buried next to Marie Corelli.
Marie Corelli was a British novelist. Corelli's novels sold more copies than the combined sales of popular contemporaries, although critics derided her work as "the favorite of the common multitude.” For over 40 years, Corelli lived with her companion, Bertha Vyver; when she died, she left everything to her friend. "Over the fireplace in the fine, old spacious lounge at Mason Croft the initials M. C. and B. V. were carven into one symbol. And it was the symbol of life.”
A recurring theme in Corelli's books is her attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral projection, and other mystical ideas. Her books were a part of the foundation of today's New Age religion. Her portrait was painted by Helen Donald-Smith.
Corelli famously had little time for the press. In 1902 she wrote to the editor of The Gentlewoman to complain that her name had been left out of a list of the guests in the Royal Enclosure at the Braemar Highland Gathering, saying she suspected this had been done intentionally. The editor replied that her name had indeed been left out intentionally, because of her own stated contempt for the press and for the snobbery of those wishing to appear in "news puffs" of society events. Both letters were published in full in the next issue.
Corelli spent her final years in Stratford-upon-Avon. There, she fought hard for the preservation of Stratford's 17th-century buildings, and donated money to help their owners remove the plaster or brickwork that often covered their original timber framed facades. Novelist Barbara Comyns Carr mentions Corelli's guest appearance at an exhibition of Anglo Saxon items found at Bidford-on-Avon in 1923.
Corelli's eccentricity became well-known. She would boat on the Avon in a gondola, complete with a gondolier that she had brought over from Venice. In his autobiography, Mark Twain, who had a deep dislike of Corelli, describes visiting her in Stratford and how the meeting changed his perception. She died in Stratford and is buried there in the Evesham Road cemetery. Her house, Mason Croft, still stands on Church Street and is now the home of the Shakespeare Institute.
For over forty years, Corelli lived with her companion, Bertha Vyver (died November 20, 1941); when she died she left everything to her friend. Although she didn't self-identify as a lesbian, biographers and critics have noted the erotic descriptions of female beauty that appear regularly in Corelli's novels. Descriptions of the deep love between the two women by their contemporaries have added to the speculation that their relationship may have been romantic. Following Corelli's death, Sidney Walton reminisced in the Yorkshire Evening News:
One of the great friendships of modern times knit together the hearts and minds of Miss Marie Corelli and Miss Bertha Vyver... Her own heart was the hearth of her comrade, and thought and love of 'Marie' thrilled through Miss Vyver's veins... In loneliness of soul, Miss Vyver mourns the loss of one who was nearer and tenderer to her than a sister... Over the fireplace in the fine, old spacious lounge at Mason Croft the initials M. C. and B. V. were carven into one symbol. And it was the symbol of life.Corelli also expressed a passion for the artist Arthur Severn, to whom she wrote daily letters from 1906 to 1917. Severn was the son of Joseph Severn and close friend to John Ruskin. In 1910, Arthur Severn and Corelli collaborated on The Devil's Motor with Severn providing illustrations for Corelli's story. Her love for the long-married painter, her only known romantic attachment to a man, remained unrequited and, in fact, Severn often belittled Corelli's success.
Corelli is generally accepted to have been the inspiration for at least two of E. F. Benson's characters in his Lucia series of six novels and a short story. The main character, Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas, is a vain and snobbish woman of the upper middle class with an obsessive desire to be the leading light of her community, to associate with the nobility, to see her name reported in the social columns, and a comical pretension to education and musical talent, neither of which she possesses. She also pretends to be able to speak Italian, something Corelli was known to have done. The character of Miss Susan Leg is an author of highly successful but pulpish romance novels who writes under the name of Rudolph da Vinci and first appears in Benson's work a few years after Marie Corelli's death in 1924.
It is also most probable that Corelli was the inspiration for "Rita's" (Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys. 1850-1938) main character in Diana of the Ephesians; which was published a year before E. F. Benson's first Lucia novel, and had been rejected by Hutchinson, who later published the "Lucia" Lucas novels.
In 2007, the British film Angel, based on a book by Elizabeth Taylor, was released as a thinly-veiled biography of Corelli. The film starred Romola Garai in the Corelli role and also starred Sam Neill and Charlotte Rampling. It was directed by François Ozon, who stated "the character of Angel was inspired by Marie Corelli, a contemporary of Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria's favourite writer. Corelli was one of the first writers to become a star, writing best-sellers for an adoring public. Today she has been totally forgotten, even in England."
During the First World War, Corelli's reputation suffered a huge blow when she was convicted of food hoarding.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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