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Chapter 5 - The Devil & Miss Corelli: Re-gendering the Diabolical and the Redemptive in The Sorrows of Satan

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2019

Julianne Smith
Affiliation:
Professor of English at Pepperdine University in Malibu.
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Summary

As illustrated in the previous chapters, by the time The Sorrows of Satan was first published in 1895, Corelli had already established a contentious relationship with the literary press. She was no stranger to bad reviews—not just bad but, by critical standards, nearly crippling. She was an eccentric woman, and this eccentricity, critics felt, was reflected in the self-absorbed and imperious tone she often asserted in her prose. With The Sorrows of Satan, her fourth novel, Corelli anticipated her critics and therefore attempted to avoid being reviewed by instructing her publisher to no longer send free copies of her book to reviewers. At her request, her publisher, Methuen, inserted this conspicuous notice at the top of page one, chapter one:

SPECIAL NOTICE

no copies of this book are sent out for review. Members of the press will therefore obtain it (should they wish to do so) in the usual way with the rest of the public, i.e., through the Booksellers and Libraries.

Critics had to buy the book before taking it to slaughter, thus giving Corelli at least the satisfaction of reimbursement for her trouble. Just as her heroine Mavis Clare does in the novel, Corelli won the approval of the reading public in spite of the critics. Peter Keating notes that “the well-known hostility of the press toward her turned the sales figures of The Sorrows of Satan into a moral campaign” (Introduction 9). Thirty-seven editions of the novel were issued in the three years following its initial publication (Masters 6).

As this history reveals, Corelli's popular success belies a lack of critical acclaim. To understand her contemporaneous popularity followed by subsequent failure to sustain readers’ attention, scholars have examined sites of cultural engagement1 but have also articulated various ways her reception is complicated by the rise of modernist sensibilities. These sensibilities, emerging over the course of Corelli's career, were hostile to women writers such as herself, whose work was overtly grounded in Victorian notions that “relied on a traditionally feminine aesthetic of sentiment and melodrama” uncongenial to “the Modernist work of cultural forgetting” (Kershner, “Modernism's” 80). Consequently, she spent much of the twentieth century in a critical netherworld where scorn, perhaps even more than obscurity, dogged her literary reputation.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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