"Such lovely warmth of thought and delicacy of colour are beyond all praise, and equally beyond all thanks!" -- Marie Corelli
Marie Corelli (1 May 185521 April 1924) was a British novelist. She emerged as a literary superstar from the publication of her first novel in 1886 until World War I when her popularity began to fade. Corelli's novels sold more copies than the combined sales of popular contemporaries, including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling, despite the fact that critics often derided her work as "the favorite of the common multitude."
"Fancy your having no sunshine in London yesterday! Here it was glorious, like full summer, and I sat up with the window wide open, listening to the discourse of two amorous thrushes.""I entirely agree with you about the obscurity of Mrs Browning's line about the stars. It is far-fetched. She wanted to express something which she found beyond expression.""I must not say what I truly think, or you will tell me I flatter you-but I can only speak what I feel-and very often I cannot even do that when the feeling is very deep.""I never married because there was no need. I have three pets at home which answer the same purpose as a husband. I have a dog which growls every morning, a parrot which swears all afternoon, and a cat that comes home late at night.""The Browning love story? It is an ideal, all too rare, and yet I hardly think it strange. It would have been far stranger had the fates allowed those two brilliant passionate souls to beat themselves out in silence.""You should always be well and bright, for so you do your best work; and you have so much beautiful work to do. The world needs it, and you must give it!"
Born Mary Mackay in London, she was the illegitimate daughter of a well known Scottish poet and songwriter, Dr. Charles Mackay, and his servant, Elizabeth Mills. In 1866, the 11 year old Mary Mackay was sent to a Parisian convent to further her education. She would only return to the United Kingdom four years later in 1870.
Mary Mackay began her career as a musician, adopting the name Marie Corelli for her billing. She gave up music, turning to writing instead and in 1886 published her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds. In her time, she was the most widely read author of fiction but came under harsh criticism from many of the literary elite for her overly melodramatic and emotional writing. Nevertheless, her works were collected by members of the British Royal Family, and by Winston and Randolph Churchill, amongst others.
Professional critics deplored her books. Her difficult ego and huge sales inspired some quotable moments of spite. Grant Allen called her, in the pages of The Spectator, "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."
A recurring theme throughout Corelli's books was her attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral projection and other mystical topics. Her books were a very important part of the foundation of today's New Age religion, some of whose adherents say that Corelli was "inspired". Her portrait was painted by Helen Donald-Smith.
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. . Her commitment to local heritage is also supported by the account of the novelist Barbara Comyns Carr who mentions Corelli's guest appearance at an exhibition of Anglo Saxon items found at Bidford-on-Avon in 1923. Her eccentricity became legendary, however, and she caused much amusement by boating on the Avon in a gondola, complete with gondolier, that she had brought over from Venice.  In his Autobiography, Mark Twain describes a visit he made to Corelli in Stratford and how it augmented his preexisting aversion to her personality. 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.
Journalists, biographers, and literary historians have speculated about the exact nature of Corelli's relationship with her companion Bertha Vyver. For over forty years, Corelli lived with Vyver and left everything to her friend when she died. Although Corelli did not self identify as a lesbian, biographers and critics have noted the erotic descriptions of female beauty that appear regularly in Corelli's novels. Moreover, descriptions of the deep love between the two women by their contemporaries have added to the speculation that their relationship may have been romantic. For example, 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, however, also shared a passion for the artist Arthur Severn, to whom she wrote daily letters for over ten years from 1906 to 1917. Severn was the son of Joseph Severn and close friend to John Ruskin. In 1910, the two collaborated on The Devil's Motor with Severn providing illustrations for Corelli's story. Her love for the long-married painter--her only romantic attachment to a man--remained unrequited and, in fact, Severn often belittled Corelli's success.