Marie Corelli was an author in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who outsold Conan Doyle, HG Wells, and Rudyard Kipling combined. She was a record-breaking bestseller, selling an average of 100,000 books per year. Her writings, dotted with spiritualist and mystical concepts, reflecting a period of vast technological upheaval that sparked a resultant interest in spirituality and the occult.
And yes, she really was Queen Victoria’s favorite author.
The Secret Power, written after World War I, is a classic example of Corelli’s work. Boardering on science fiction (or even an early form of Steampunk) the novel is loaded with references to classic European mysticism. The mystic is one who sees the world differently. There is a secret knowledge, discovered and rediscovered through the ages, and that knowledge can be found within. Sacred symbols are a tool for communicating that knowledge, etc., etc.
Marie CorelliIt’s unclear whether Corelli was a Rosicrucian, but she seems to have had an understanding of the society’s basic principles, and they’ve claimed her for their own.
This is all played out in the conflict between the two major characters, the scientists Morganna Royal and Roger Seaton. They both suffer from the modern malaise of nihilism, but while Morganna finds meaning in the world of the spirit, Roger embraces his nihilism. Morganna penetrates the secret power and creates wonderful inventions — airships and lifesaving potions. Roger decides humanity is lost, and develops uses that power to create a weapon of mass destruction.
And in the conflict between Roger and Morganna lies another common theme: feminism. In Corelli’s books, the women are unabashed heros. As an unmarried, self-supporting writer, she loudly and frequently proclaimed that women deserved financial and intellectual independence. Yet while she was publicly was dismissive of the sexually daring feminist "New Woman" of the 1890s, her heroines often were the very New Woman she claimed to despise.
It’s unsurprising, however, that Corelli’s works haven’t withstood the test of time. The prose is unremittingly purple, and the mystic concepts are teased out through lengthy discussions. There’s something Ayn Randian about Corelli’s writing — not the extreme libertarian concepts, but in the ideal man/ideal woman characters and unending dialog. Unlike Rand, Corelli brings a proto-feminism to her writing. Her heroine eschews marriage, which she understands will crush her independent female soul.
No good symbol goes unbeaten to death. Morganna is unremittingly compared to the fae. Over and over and over again.
Corelli herself was something of a character. Born Mary Mackay into the British middle class, she changed her name to Marie Corelli when she attempted a career as a pianist. That didn’t pan out, and she switched to writing. When she hit the big time, she denied her English roots and claimed she’d been adopted, though there’s no historical evidence to suggest this was true. She used her wealth to build a fantasy life for herself, boating on the Avon in a gondola, complete with Venetian gondolier. Mark Twain despised her affectations, claiming time spent with her was the most painful of his 72 years.
About the Author
Kirsten Weiss writes genre-blending cozy mystery, urban fantasy, and steampunk suspense, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.