It was so random.
I hunted for a good seat for a session at the RWA 2014 conference. Near the front, I spotted a row of empty seats where I’d need to maneuver past a guy wearing a baseball cap. “Excuse me,” I said as I squeezed past him, lugging my tote bag of books. I plopped down, with one seat between us, and then realized I wouldn’t be able to see the speaker. This was the friendliest group of conference attendees I’d ever rubbed shoulders with, so I scooted right next to him, assuming he was a fellow writer.
The session was about to get a whole lot friendlier.
He said he liked my Doors tote bag. I told him I’d made it, and, since he seemed intrigued, I also showed him the clutch purse I made from a book titled THELMA.
Startled, he fixed his blue eyes on the cover. “That’s Marie Corelli!”
“Yes, it is!” I explained my mother was named Thelma, after one of her mother’s favorite books. I’d done some sleuthing on the name Thelma in literature, and discovered the writer Corelli and her novel THELMA – A NORWEGIAN PRINCESS. In the late 1800’s until her death in 1924, Corelli was a household name among Victorian readers. I assume this is how my grandmother, born in 1895, came to read her.
I swear the guy gasped. He happens to be a professor of Victorian Sensation Fiction and Gothic literature with a PhD in Victorian lit. Dr. Curt Herr is also very fond of Marie Corelli: he teaches from her Gothic novels and wrote the intro to two of them.
From my prior research, I knew the writer had been critically dismissed, though she was the Victorian equivalent of Stephen King in status and earnings, a rock-star author whose novels were immediate bestsellers all over the world.
I was gobsmacked to meet Dr. Herr.
Actually, we were both geeked at this happenstance. He asked to take my picture with my book clutch for his editor, and offered to mail me copies of the books with his intros.
It’s a small world, indeed, that I would end up sitting next to another fan of one particularly zany Victorian writer at a conference of about 1300 people.
He sent me Corelli’s VENDETTA and ZISKA. I learned from Dr. Herr that Corelli wrote a trilogy that creates “a celebration of Gothic horrors so extreme they make Stoker’s DRACULA look like a child’s storybook.”
So a female author of fantastical other-worldly moralistic novels also wrote a Gothic trilogy chock full of moral insanity and ethical perversity, mimicking the style of Decadent Literature. She knew it would shock her critics, despite her immense popularity. Why would she do this?
Dr. Herr reveals Corelli’s motives in his intro to VENDETTA:
“Luxuriantly wallowing in its excessive style, Corelli combats the Decadents to expose the dangers lurking in its unhinged power and uncovers the terrifying consequences found in a world free from moral codes and ethical behavior.” However disgusted by the Decadents’ contempts for morality she may have been, she was an expert at mimicking their style. Even today, her trilogy still has the power to shock the senses.”
How delightful! And how delightful to know that, decades after their publication, Marie Corelli’s books are being recognized for their brilliance and literary value, and being taught by scholars such as Dr. Curt Herr.
It gives me goose bumps. Thelma (my late mother) would have been tickled. Thank you, Dr. Herr! What a gift.
More about Marie Corelli’s fascinating fantastical novels here.
Read about Dr. Herr here.
Many of Corelli’s books are available as free downloads through the Gutenberg Project here.