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Posts Tagged ‘Marie Corelli’

I discovered Marie Corelli when I was a student, and when I used to spend a lot of time in the library. The government library that was there in the town I lived in, didn’t have books by ‘hot’ authors, but had mostly classics and books by British writers who wrote in the late 19th / early 20th century. At that time I thought quite poorly of the library’s collection, but I am older and wiser now and I realize that the books the library had were rare classics which are impossible to get today. I discovered A.J.Cronin, Freeman Wills Crofts and Sapper (Herman Cyril McNeile) because of this library and I am thankful for that. I also discovered contemporary writers like Sally Beauman (author of ‘Destiny’) and Christopher New because of this library. Christopher New’s ‘Shanghai’ is one of the best novels on China that I have ever read. It is set in China from around 1900 to 1949. If you like novels set in China, you will love this.

 

One of the writers whose books I saw in the library, while browsing the shelves those days, was Marie Corelli. Her books were typically thick hardbacks and looked very different from other classics. One of the things I noticed about her books was that the first page was written so well that it grabbed the reader’s attention. For example, one of Corelli’s books called ‘Vendetta’ starts with this sentence – “I, who write this, am a dead man”. Who can resist this start? Another Corelli book called ‘Thelma’ starts with this sentence – “Midnight, – without darkness, without stars!” The reader can’t wait to find out what is this place which is not dark at midnight and which doesn’t have stars! The book that is reviewed here, ‘The Sorrows of Satan’, starts with this sentence – “Do you know what it is to be poor?” I never borrowed one of Corelli’s books, but I browsed through them and read the first page, and put them back on the shelf. I always thought that I will come back and read a Marie Corelli book later. But that day never came and I grew up and moved cities and Marie Corelli went out of sight and out of mind, while her books disappeared from the bookshelves of libraries and bookstores. Later, while reading one of R.K.Narayan’s nonfiction books, I read his thoughts on Corelli. I found that quite interesting, because I didn’t remember any writer mentioning Corelli before, and it was like an old friend knocking at the doors of my memory and making me remember her. Sometime back, I spent an evening at the bookstore browsing books, when I saw a Marie Corelli book! Then I saw another! Then another! I was so delighted at making this acquaintance with her again! I had thought that I will never see a Corelli book again and here there were three staring at my face, like long-lost friends! I grabbed the three of them and got home and put them in a special place on my bookshelf. There they waited for the right time to be taken out and read. The stars aligned and the right time arrived last week. I took down ‘The Sorrows of Satan’ and read it in one breath. Here is what I think about it.

 

 

What I think

 

‘The Sorrows of Satan’ is about a poor writer called Geoffrey Tempest who finds it extremely difficult to make ends meet as his articles for papers and magazines are rejected while his novel is rejected by publisher after publisher, though it seems to have some merit. Tempest arrives home one day in the evening, trying to dodge his landlady because his rent is overdue, and sits on a chair tiredly when he notices that three letters have arrived for him. One of them contains a draft for fifty pounds from his friend in Australia, John Carrington, to whom Tempest had asked for a loan. Tempest is thrilled and thanks his friend from his heart. His friend has also written Tempest that a benefactor and friend of his will visit Tempest soon, present his credentials and help him in getting his book published. The second letter is from a firm of solicitors, which states that one of Tempest’s distant relatives has left a fortune of five million pounds for Tempest in his will and asks Tempest whether he could come and collect it. Tempest is thrilled beyond measure, because from a pauper who can’t afford to pay his rent he has become a multi-millionaire in a matter of minutes. The third letter is from Prince Lucio Rimânez, which states that Prince Rimânez is a friend of Tempest’s friend John Carrington and he is in town and he would like to meet Tempest and be of service to him. Tempest doesn’t know what to do, because though he was delighted five minutes back when he read his friend’s letter, now he is not sure whether he needs his friend’s benefactor’s help, because of his newly acquired wealth. But before Tempest can decide on what to do, there is a knock at the door, a handsome, elegant gentleman enters and introduces himself as Prince Rimânez and before Tempest knows he has become close friends with this mysterious gentleman, who seems to know the who’s who of London and England. Tempest’s life changes beyond his wildest dreams because of his newly acquired wealth and influence and he seems to get all that a man can ever desire – a big house, a beautiful wife, friends among royal circles, lots of money in the bank, a life filled with parties. He even is able to publish his book, because he pays for it himself. It is even critically acclaimed. But is that all that he wants? Does the new life make Tempest really happy? Is a hedonistic life, all that there is? After all how much can one eat, drink and make merry? Or how many parties can one host or attend and how long can one be famous? And what about true love? Does it really exist or is it all a sham? And who is this mysterious gentleman, Prince Rimânez, who uses his influence and helps Tempest without expecting anything in return? Isn’t it too good to be true? To find the answers to these questions, you should read the book 🙂

 

‘The Sorrows of Satan’ could be called a Faustian fable. It asks interesting questions on human life and wants and desires and makes the reader think on what is the good life and what is the best way to get it. It also throws interesting light on the contrasts between rich and poor, fame and anonymity, truth and imagination, science and faith and attempts to show that what is visible on the surface is not all there is. When we read it with a 21st century sensibility, we might find some of the passages preachy, some of the passages cynical, the ending a bit ‘Christian’ and one of the characters even resembling Mary Sue. But the book touched me deeply, talked to me at many levels and provided me many revealing insights. It also showed how the world hasn’t changed much across the centuries and how no rules applied to some people while all rules applied to others. I loved the characters of Prince Lucio Rimânez, Lady Sibyl Elton who is Geoffrey Tempest’s wife and Mavis Clare, a fellow writer, of whom Tempest is jealous, and who he later admires. I especially liked Sibyl, who in some ways might be called the ‘bad’ lady in the novel, but who is really a strong and complex and courageous character and who speaks some insightful passages. I also liked the way the narrator, Geoffrey Tempest’s life and thinking and character evolves across the story.

 

I searched for information in Wikipedia about Marie Corelli and found some interesting nuggets. Here is what Wikipedia said – “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.”” Isn’t that interesting? To sell more copies than the combined sales of popular contemporaries, must have been really something! Marie Corelli seems to have been a literary superstar of her age! Marie Corelli also seems to have lived an unconventional life, because she never married and seems to have had an intimate relationship with her longtime companion Bertha Vyver.  It is sad that Corelli is not so well known today. It is a shame that bestselling authors of a particular era are ignored by later generations because of the opinion of critics and their works are lost after a point of time. I hope more new readers discover Marie Corelli and her works.  

 

Excerpts

 

I loved many passages from the book. Here is one of my favourites.

 

The music swelled into passionate cadence, – melodies crossed and re-crossed each other like rays of light glittering among green leaves, – voices of birds and streams and tossing waterfalls chimed in with songs of love and playful merriment; – anon came wilder strains of grief and angry clamour; cries of despair were heard echoing through the thunderous noise of some relentless storm, – farewells everlastingly shrieked amid sobs of reluctant shuddering agony; – and then, as I listened, before my eyes a black mist gathered slowly, and I thought I saw great rocks bursting asunder into flame, and drifting islands in a sea of fire, – faces, wonderful, hideous, beautiful, peered at me out of a darkness denser than night, and in the midst of this there came a tune, complete in sweetness and suggestion, – a piercing sword-like tune that plunged into my very heart and rankled there, – my breath failed me, – my senses swam, – I felt that I must move, speak, cry out, and implore that this music, this horribly insidious music should cease ere I swooned with the voluptuous poison of it, – when, with a full chord of splendid harmony that rolled out upon the air like a breaking wave, the intoxicating sounds ebbed away into silence. No one spoke, – our hearts were yet beating too wildly with the pulsations roused by that wondrous lyric storm.

 

I am going to read the other Corelli books I have – ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Thelma’ –  soon. I also discovered that Oxford University Press has published some of her books. I want to search for them and get them too.

 

Have you read ‘The Sorrows of Satan’ or other Marie Corelli books? What do you think about them?

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