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Chapter 1 - Stratford-Upon-Avon's “Great Little Lady”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2019

Nick Leigh Birch
Affiliation:
Obtained funding for the statue's restoration by the City and Guild School of Art in London, and the reinstatement of the monument.
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Summary

Marie Corelli visited Stratford-upon-Avon in 1890, accompanied by her halfbrother Eric Mackay and her companion Bertha Vyver. Stratford-upon-Avon, with its Tudor buildings, riverside setting and celebrated heritage, was a picturesque destination for the self-confessed devotee of William Shakespeare. Marie was gratified to find that the success of her first four novels, A Romance of Two Worlds, Vendetta, Thelma and Ardath, had preceded her into the provinces, and the little market town was pleased to host the aspiring and ambitious author. During their ten-day stay, they paid homage to Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity church, signed the visitors’ book at the birthplace in Henley Street and went boating on the river Avon. Marie evidently had fond memories of the visit, for nine years later, when her doctor Mary Scharlieb urged her to escape London for a couple of years to rest and recuperate in the country, she chose the sleepy home of Shakespeare as an ideal retreat for a “literary” personage like herself.

In the spring of 1899 Marie and Bertha rented Halls Croft, the fine seventeenth-century, half-timbered home of Susanna Shakespeare which, at the time, was privately owned. The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald reported on May 19: “So Marie Corelli has taken a house in Stratford and intends to live and write here. Now good Stratford people don't make too much fuss of your resident authoress when she settles down. The poor lady has been very ill and cannot be quite strong yet. So don't dodge round her dwelling and try to peep through her curtains” (“Things” 8).

The townspeople and visitors alike couldn't help but be curious about Stratford's famous new resident. With sales of around 100,000 copies a year (Masters 6) earning her an income in excess of £1,800 (Waller 772), or £1.8million in today's terms, Marie Corelli was the world's most successful living author and a Victorian celebrity. Even those who had not read one of her books certainly knew who she was. Stratford society was small and parochial, and everyone was eager to meet the visiting celebrity. Marie rapidly became involved with the social life of the town; she was invited to attend important meetings, be the guest of honor at public functions, open fêtes and give prizes.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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