IT’S DIFFICULT, even a century after her literary career began its decline, to talk about Marie Corelli without succumbing to a battery of adjectives. Often condemned as a hack and praised as a saint, Corelli was something altogether more interesting, a sort of Oscar Wilde in reverse. If Wilde’s lampoons show a certain tenderness toward human hypocrisy, the joke being that most everyone is terrible, Corelli’s satire, while no less affectionate, sides always with the angels. Hers is a sincere sarcasm. She was a flamboyant puritan, an antisuffragist cryptofeminist, and a defender of traditional morals who lived all her life with another woman. On a wall above the mantel in one of the main halls of Mason Croft, the house she shared with her lifelong companion Bertha Vyver, both women’s initials appear encircled by a wreath. The caption underneath reads “Amor Vincit.” (All-conquering love notwithstanding, it’s likely that Corelli’s relationship with Vyver remained platonic.)
more from Lili Loofbourow at the LA Review of Books here.