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Chapter 4 - “The Muses Are Women; So Are the Fates”: Corelli's Literary Masquerade(s)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2019

Sarah E. Maier
Affiliation:
Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of New Brunswick, Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies and was named University Teaching Scholar in 2006.
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Summary

one wishes to deceive a man, what one presents to him is the painting of a veil, that is to say, something that incites him to ask what is behind it.

—Lacan 112

In our first chapter, Nick Birch alluded to Corelli's “conspicuous and shameless desire for self-advertisement that pervaded everything she did” (22). In our third chapter, Julia Kuehn mentioned that J. M. Stuart-Young “wrote disparagingly” about Corelli's being “the greatest genius of self-advertisement produced by our country” (71). Kuehn also noted that the critic thought that only the “unthinking classes” and women and the “working classes” read Corelli's books (75), a point that Kuehn disputed. Stuart-Young said a lot more in his denouncement of England's bestselling novelist in that article that appeared in the Westminster Review in December 1906. He declared Marie Corelli to be “an erotic degenerate of the subtlest type” who, because she was “undomesticated” and celibate, was a “man-woman” who used “the methods and the talents of a woman” but “unmistakably demonstrated also the arrogances and the intense prejudices of a man” (691). He dismissed Corelli's novels and opinions as inconsequential with the claim that it is “only on degenerate subjects that hysterical people can make effect” (691), so he argues it is “only the imperfectly developed individual” such as “young women, domesticated matrons, youths, and those who are hysterical or weak in nerve and brain” (685) who constitute her readers, not “people whose opinions really matter” (681). Stuart-Young accused Corelli of being a “social menace,” the symbol of a “superficial generation” who easily influences the unthinking masses with her “pen-pictures,” faulty grammar and turgid style (682). It is the “multitude of average people” to whom “a real thought is alien” that falls for the “courage of [Corelli's] hysteria [that] is not afraid to scream” (683). Corelli, through her “sublime ravings” (686), Stuart-Young believed, was “train[ing] up a nation of criminals and weaklings” (692). Constantly and consistently vilified by the press for her perceived “vulgarity, sensationalism, self-aggrandizement, inflated imagination, lack of restraint, and above all, an incurably commonplace mind” (Felski, Gender 116), Corelli was considered “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 and an impressive scale.”

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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