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Evelyn Sharp (1869-1955)
Evelyn Sharp was a woman of many parts: a talented writer of children’s stories, a pioneering journalist, a suffragette and an international humanitarian. She came from a highly respectable English family (the folk-song and dance expert Cecil Sharp was one of her brothers) and spent much of her life rebelling against the traditional notions of femininity espoused by the Sharps. She started writing as a teenager and published her first essay when she was twenty. Sharp contributed short stories to Atalanta, a magazine for young ladies. After moving to lodgings in London, she came to the attention of John Lane at the Bodley Head. Her first novel, At the Relton Arms, was published in his Keynote series in 1895. She became one of the contributors to the (in)famous Yellow Book, insisting that the journal lacked ‘enough impropriety to cover a sixpence’. But it was as the author of books for children, most notably a novel called The Youngest Girl in the School (1901) and four volumes of fairy tales (replete with feisty heroines who subvert conventional expectations), that she really made her name. She also became a journalist, contributing to the Manchester Guardian for four decades. Indeed, in the 1920s she became the first regular woman contributor to its iconic Women’s Page.
From 1906 until 1918 Sharp was a committed suffragette. She was active in Mrs Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, was twice imprisoned for militant activity, and took over the editorship of the leading suffrage newspaper, Votes for Women, in 1912. Unlike many suffrage supporters, she remained very active throughout the war. She was a founder of the United Suffragists that took over Votes for Women,which she edited until the partial enfranchisement of women in 1918. She was the last woman in Britain to refuse to pay her taxes because she lacked the vote.
The war convinced her of the importance of international cooperation and peace. In the early 1920s she worked with the Quakers in war-torn Germany and in horrendous famine conditions in the heart of Soviet Russia. Her powerful stories in the Daily Herald and articles in other progressive newspapers helped inform and educate people at home about the desperate lives of many women and children who were victims of war and famine abroad.
Sharp also wrote books about the childhood and adolescence of the London poor and an account of the plight of children in Africa (based on a conference on childhood held in Geneva in 1931). Her articles and fiction were made especially effective by a wit and sense of humour that pervaded her work. A versatile writer, she also composed the libretto for a comic opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
At the age of sixty-three, she married for the first time. Her husband was the radical war correspondent and eloquent writer of essays, Henry W. Nevinson. Together they continued to champion freedom and denounce the rise of fascism. They were bombed out of their home in 1940. Widowed from 1941, Sharp kept on writing through most of the Second World War. She died in London in 1955 aged eighty-five.
By Angela V. John.
Angela V. John is a professor of history and biographer. Her new biography of Evelyn Sharp is now available from Manchester University Press. It is distributed in the USA by Palgrave Macmillan.
Lady Florence Douglas Dixie (1857-1905)
Lady Florence Douglas Dixie is often overlooked by critics in favour of her nephew and brother. Lord Alfred Douglas, her nephew, was Oscar Wilde’s lover. Her brother, the Marquess of Queensberry, brought Oscar Wilde to trial. Florence Dixie, however, was an interesting figure in her own right. She wrote and spoke publicly about British imperial policies, women’s rights, and animal cruelty. She advocated for sex education and population control. She loved horse sports and was an accomplished equestrian. She also formed a close relationship with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII).
Fulfilling the gender expectations of her era, at eighteen years old Florence Douglas married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie. She soon gave birth to two sons. After the birth of her sons Dixie wrote that she felt ennui in London society. With her husband, two of her brothers, and Julius Beerbohm (who published Wanderings in Patagonia in 1879) she traveled to South America to escape her ennui. Based on her experiences in Patagonia, Dixie wrote Across Patagonia (1881), which describes big game hunting and the hardships faced by the travelers on the South American frontier.
Dixie’s hunting experiences in Patagonia led her to join the Humanitarian League. She published a pamphlet, The Horrors of Sport, in 1891 (it was reprinted in 1895). In this pamphlet she asserts that, contrary to English aristocratic tradition, hunting is barbaric. Her Songs of a Child and Other Poems (1901) urge children to act mercifully toward animals.
In 1881 she traveled to South Africa as a field correspondent to cover the First Boer War. Based on her observations and interviews in Africa, she published A Defense of Zululand and Its King (1882) and In the Land of Misfortune (1882). These texts advocated for Cetshwayo's restoration to the throne.
Throughout her life Dixie supported equality between the sexes. Many of her novels imagined utopian societies where both sexes were equal. She also spoke out against the exclusion of women from the university and the workplace. She frequently attended public meetings and wrote on behalf of women’s rights. She proved an exceptional adversary to novelist Rider Haggard. After the publication of Haggard’s novel Beatrice, Dixie wrote to him, chastising him for ‘the servility of his heroine.’ In 1890, Dixie published her feminist utopian novel, Gloriana; Or, The Revolution of 1900. Committed to equal rights and suffrage, she used writing to advocate for social reform. Her blank verse tragedy, Isola; or, the Disinherited, deals with a woman who rebels against her arranged marriage and demands rights. The heroine’s death ushers in a new era of religious and social freedom.
The publication of her autobiographical novel The Story of Ijain, or, The Evolution of the Mind (1903) chronicles the events of the turbulent Douglas family. She uses pseudonyms, but in a personal letter she connects each family member to their character in the novel. This novel provided her critics with easy fodder. Her travels, her love of sports, her extended family’s dramatic life, and her outspoken feminism led the popular press and London society to see her as eccentric and larky.
By Precious McKenzie.
Precious McKenzie Stearns is a visiting instructor at The University of South Florida, Tampa, USA. She is the co-editor of Forces of Nature: Natural(-Izing) Gender and Gender (-Ing) Nature in the Discourses of Western Culture (Cambridge Scholars Press). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lady Florence Douglas Dixie, from Vanity Fair (January 1884)
May French-Sheldon (1847-1936)
May French-Sheldon claimed to be the first woman explorer of Africa based on her 1891 expedition from Zanzibar to the Kilimanjaro region of East Africa, during which she famously wore a court dress, tiara, and long blond wig, calling herself ‘the White Queen.’ French-Sheldon was among the most colourful of personalities engaged in African exploration in this period, and certainly was among the very first women to travel in Africa without male chaperonage, for the purpose of discovery, and with the aim of achieving fame on the basis of her travel. She published a description of her expedition and of the peoples she met along the way in a detailed ethnography, Sultan to Sultan: Adventures Among the Masai and Other Tribes of East Africa (Boston: Arena Press, 1892). She received many accolades and awards, including membership in the Royal Geographic Society, which was, up until then, and for sometime thereafter, an all-male organization.
May (born Mary) French was born in Pennsylvania and was the daughter of Elizabeth Poorman French, who was a medical practitioner and pioneer of what she called ‘electro-cranial’ diagnosis as well as ‘water cure’ therapy, catering to East Coast upper class families in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. In 1870, May married Eli Lemon Sheldon, an American banker, and moved with him to London to advise wealthy Britons on investment opportunities in the United States. There, the Sheldons set up a salon attracting many famous British travelers notable among which were Henry Morton Stanley and Henry S. Wellcome. Both men became close friends of Eli and May and assisted May with the plans and arrangements for her 1891 expedition. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, rumours circulated that linked Stanley romantically to both Eli and May. After Eli Sheldon's premature death in 1892, May took up residence with a spinster named Nellie Butler, who became her companion for the next forty-five years.
In 1903, May French-Sheldon returned to Africa, this time to the Congo, where she acted as a spy for the Congo Reform Association, which had been formed in opposition to the Belgian King Leopold and his policies in the Congo (reputed to utilize the most brutal and murderous of colonial methods). There is some evidence that French-Sheldon also served as a double agent for the Belgian king, returning with laudatory reports of his rubber extraction policies. She also used this trip as an opportunity to form her own rubber company, the Americo-Liberian Company, negotiating a concession, signed by the Liberian legislature in 1905, for 1200 square miles of rubber plantation land. This concession was cancelled later by the Liberian president, who suspected French-Sheldon of fraud and feared her investors were European rather than American. In 1921, French-Sheldon received the Ordre de la Croix de la Couronne (the Order of the Cross of the Crown) from Leopold II's son, Belgian King Albert, for her unwavering devotion to Belgium and her public defence of his father's policies in the Congo during the years of that controversy. Through the 1920s, French-Sheldon enjoyed a vigorous and lucrative public speaking career in the United States, Canada, and Britain, until failing health in her early 80s prevented her from engaging in overseas travel. In the first half of the 1930s, she was employed by Henry S. Wellcome at the Wellcome Medical Museum as an expert on African affairs. She donated many of her most treasured artifacts gleaned from her African travels to Wellcome's collection; the rest were donated to the Musee d'Afrique at Tervuren in Belgium. Her personal papers were donated to the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. in the 1940s by a relative of Nellie Butler. Upon her death in 1936, obituaries lauding French-Sheldon's personal bravery and sympathetic attitudes towards Africans appeared in all major newspapers in the United States, Canada, and Britain.
By Tracey Jean Boisseau.
TJ Boisseau is an Associate Professor of Gender and Cultural History in the Department of History, The University of Akron, OH, USA
Marie Corelli (1855-1924)
During her lifetime, Marie Corelli (pseudonym for Mary Mackay) managed to attain what would today be referred to as superstar status. According to one of her biographers, Brian Masters, Corelli reigned as the bestselling writer in the world for almost thirty years, during which time at least thirty of the novels she published were ‘world best-sellers.’ 1 Her romances, blending sensationalism with transcendentalism, outsold those of all her contemporary literary rivals, 2 and she broke all previous publishing records by selling an average of 100,000 copies of her books per year. 3 It was not unusual to hear of thousands fighting to touch her gown when she made scheduled public appearances. She was a celebrity in a new age of mass media. However, public opinion was not entirely even. Contemporary reviews of her writing, for example, ranged from being ‘savage and merciless’, according to Methuen publishing house founder, Sir Algernon Methuen, to public endorsements by leading figures including William Gladstone and Queen Victoria. 4
Since the heady height of her fame, Corelli and her writings have spent a considerable period of time in exile. However, they have now been returned ‘to conversations about the late-Victorian and Edwardian literary world’, thanks in most part to writers and biographers such as Janet Galligani Casey, Annette Federico, N Feltes, Richard Kowalczyk, Brian Masters, and Teresa Ransom. 5 In the 1990s, Oxford University Press released a ‘World Classics’ edition of her 1895 phenomenal bestseller, The Sorrows of Satan, with an ‘Introduction’ by Peter Keating. The motivating factor behind many recent accounts of Corelli’s life and critiques of her writing seem to lie with a curiosity, in Federico’s words, about a woman whose fame at the beginning of the twentieth century was ‘unsurpassed’, and yet by the end of that century had become ‘a name vaguely, and pejoratively, connected with Victorian popular fiction’. 6 A substantial proportion of these recent studies of Corelli and her work centre on the role that gender played in Corelli’s writing and in the literary world at the end of the Victorian era.
Corelli’s complex, often contradictory views on turn-of-the-century femininity and feminism are renowned. She was notoriously vociferous in her criticism of the 1890s New Woman, New Woman writers and New Woman fiction in general. Yet her life and her expansive collection of writing (novels, articles and pamphlets included) reveal an ambiguous, often paradoxical, attitude towards all that the New Woman and contemporary feminism represented. On the one hand, Corelli was an unmarried female writer who outsold all her rivals, both male and female, defied the conventions of the male-dominated literary world and loudly proclaimed women to be worthy of intellectual and financial independence; on the other, she was a writer and public figure who attacked the open militancy of radical feminism and the explicit sexuality of the New Woman, who campaigned against women receiving the vote and who romanticised feminine frailty. She was a writer who deplored what she saw as the contemporary trend towards atheism, debauchery and the disappearance of sexual difference and yet who sold thousands of novels indulging in those same vices. 7 It is clear that, given her astounding global popularity, Corelli’s life and her written works provided a superb stage for the simultaneous declaration of solid feminist and wildly anti-feminist sentiments.
Corelli the Woman
Born in London in 1855, Corelli achieved fame with the publication of her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds, in 1886. From then onwards, she wrote and published at least thirty popular or bestselling novels, as well as a large volume of short stories, poems, journalism and polemical essays. She later moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, where she was renowned for numerous eccentricities including that of importing an ‘authentic’ Italian gondola and gondolier. She lived there with her life-long friend and companion, Bertha Vyver, until her death in 1924.
Corelli manufactured an air of mystery to surround the details of her life. She perpetuated this sense of personal intrigue and worked hard to protect her invented public persona throughout her career – no mean feat, considering the degree to which her life was the subject of public scrutiny. Even after her death, for example, the various competing stories about her birth and her parentage continued to ‘bewilder’ and confuse the public of which she had been literary ‘Queen’. By dressing in willowy white or pastel shades, and decorated with flowers, or draped in romantic costume (clothing that concealed her ‘dumpiness’ according to one of her earlier biographers, Eileen Bigland), Corelli’s stylised image accorded well with the romanticised notions of femininity that abound in her fiction. Controlling this stylised image meant controlling the dissemination of photographs and portraitures of herself. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that Corelli’s invented self also entailed ‘lopping’ at least ten years of her real age. Controlling the public release of personal images became even more pertinent in order to support this fiction. 8 Yet, these portraits of the soft, innocent lady-author distributed by Corelli and her publishers belied the canny businesswoman beneath.
Corelli fought persistently against unwanted intrusions into her private life. In her 2000 study, The Idol of Suburbia, Annette Federico argues that it is this constant, often successful attempt to control the public dissemination of unauthorised images that marks Corelli as a remarkably astute member of the literary marketplace – revealing much about her ambition and her ‘canniness as a woman in a male-dominated industry’. 9 And this fact was recognised during Corelli’s era. The standard of her literature may have been ridiculed but, as a 1906 edition of the Westminster Review remarked, she was, with the possible exception of her literary rival Hall Caine, ‘the greatest genius of self-advertisement produced by our century’. 10 This is all the more remarkable because this was the era that ushered in the culture of celebrity, including author iconography, fuelled by the advent of mass media, particularly photojournalism. As her books broke publishing records and her fame rocketed, the number of public appearances that she made, ranging from attending theatrical performances to presenting to the Edinburgh Philosophical Society and the Royal Society of Literature, also grew. 11 (Incidentally, she was the first woman to lecture before the Royal Society of Literature.) Maintaining control over her celebrity became more difficult. Nevertheless, Corelli was relentless. Twenty years after her writing career began, for example, The London Chronicle and the New York Times reported that Corelli had filed suit against photographers in her home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. While obviously revelling in the detail that the photographs in question were unflattering, and that Corelli’s representatives had alleged that ‘a gross libel had been perpetrated on her features’, the New York Times wrote that she had filed for an injunction to restrain the photographers from ‘publishing or otherwise disposing of picture postcards purporting to depict scenes in the private life of Miss Corelli’. 12 Whether issues of privacy, vanity or marketing were at the forefront of this suit cannot be known. Doubtless, it was a mixture of all three. However, what is of consequence is that this female author continued to take a stand against the imposition of increasingly common practices in an industry renowned for being dominated by men.
Corelli the Writer
These were not the only conventions that Corelli was to fight against. In relation to her writing, she reacted to unfavourable reviews of her novels by refusing to send out free copies of her books for reviewers. Reviewers, like all other readers, she declared, were to purchase a copy. 13 Few other authors of the time had the confidence, or the arrogance, to do the same.
So how did this remarkably successful, astute, unmarried writer and business woman treat feminism and the New Woman in her writing? Corelli’s attitudes towards femininity and feminism rarely differ between her fictional and non-fictional writing. Each form of literature mirrors an ambiguous, sometimes contradictory, approach towards pivotal women’s concerns of her day. Each is revealing of the negotiations and compromises Corelli reached in her explorations of prominent feminist concerns. Publications such as ‘The Advance of Woman’ (included in the 1905 collection entitled Free Opinions Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct) and Woman – or Suffrage? A Question of National Choice (published in 1907) attacked the ‘loose conduct and coarse speech’ of campaigning Suffragists while championing ‘simple womanliness’ over ‘a political mess of pottage’. 14 ‘Real Woman’, Woman – or Suffrage? continued, ‘if she has the natural heritage of her sex, which is the mystic power to persuade, enthral and subjugate man, she has no need to come down from her throne and mingle in any of his political frays’. 15 ‘The Advance of Woman’ concludes: ‘Men adore what they cannot imitate.’ 16 Taking to the streets to agitate for the vote only serves to deplete the distinction between femininity and masculinity. Those women who are seen, as she states in The Sorrows of Satan, ‘clamouring like unnatural hens in a barn-yard about their ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’’ rob the rest of their sex of its dignity. 17
Corelli’s fictional writing continued this assault on the New Woman. Her bestselling novels made frequent derogatory references to the stereotype of the New Woman, to the coldly intellectual, Girton educated, ‘Christ-scorning,’ sexually knowledgeable, ugly, short-haired and bespectacled bicycle-riding and tennis-playing female – one ‘eminently fitted to become the mother of a brood of atheists’. 18 (She conveniently ignored the fact that the majority of the period’s moderate feminists based much of their philosophy in Christianity.) One of her most damnable and sensational indictments of the New Woman and New Woman fiction comes in the form of The Sorrows of Satan’s (1895) Lady Sibyl. Lady Sibyl’s story leaves the late Victorian reading public in no doubt as to the dangerous effects of a modern society permeated with the New Woman’s ‘clamouring’ and the decadence of New Woman fiction.
Lady Sibyl is both a New Woman and a victim of the New Woman in that she gains all her unwomanly knowledge from New Woman novels – sexual knowledge that leads her to her death after she sensationally throws herself naked at the Devil (in the form of the charming Prince Lucio). As she explains to her husband, Geoffrey Tempest: ‘Oh yes, indeed we know quite well what we are doing now when we marry, thanks to the ‘new’ fiction!’. 19 Moreover, she conveniently leaves a suicide note explaining that her downfall stemmed from reading a New Women novel over and over again until she began to understand all of its insinuations and until she also began to enjoy them. 20 The writers of New Women novels, frequently female, come under bitter attack as authors who write in order to ‘degrade and shame their sex,’ authors who are ‘destitute of grammar as well as decency’. 21 These authors, these ‘self degrading creatures who delineate their heroines as wallowing in unchastity, and who write freely on subjects which men would hesitate to name,’ are described in The Sorrows of Satan as the ‘unnatural hybrids of no-sex’. 22 (What is interesting here is that Corelli, like other anti-New Woman writers, insisted on portraying her New Woman as possessing a ‘voracious sexual’ appetite, and this is despite the ‘silence surrounding female sexuality within the mainstream feminist movement’ of the time.23 )
Corelli always opposed the stereotypical image of the New Woman because, as ‘unnatural hybrids of no-sex’, they threatened the naturalness of sexual difference. However, interestingly, she did write an unusual ‘lighter’ story, My Wonderful Wife (1889), that presented the New Woman less as dangerous and more as misguided and ridiculous – a novella that Federico describes as ‘a humorous send-up of New Women and the marriage question’. 24 Honoria Maggs, the ‘heroine’ of the story is unequivocally a New Woman. She is a physically robust, non-sentimental Amazonian figure who likes to hunt, spend time in the company of ‘the boys’, eats like a man, has a loud voice that frightens her husband as they are taking their wedding vows, and who, her husband informs us, he would have kissed ‘but that vile cigar stuck out of her mouth and prevented’ him.25 Still, and as interesting as Honoria is, especially in contrast with her insipid husband, her continued insistence on acting like a man, even after marriage and motherhood, of aping man’s habits (including writing ‘a sporting novel, full of slap-dash vigour and stable slang’), and her rejection of her child and therefore woman’s sacred duty to ‘save’ the human race, constitutes a series of moral transgressions for which she must be condemned (though not the same sensational damnation that is imposed on Lady Sibyl).26
However, this condemnation of feminism and the New Woman was made by a woman writer who simultaneously and fervently campaigned for the well-deserved recognition of the female mind and of the substantial, even remarkable, intellectual capabilities of women in the often hostile environment of the male-dominated intellectual world. Corelli’s bestselling novels may have derided the notorious figure of the New Woman, but she also centred most of her novels on female protagonists who exuded a sense of feminine genius and intellectual independence. 27
Corelli often allowed the thoughts and actions of her heroines to extend past the limitations normally set in place by Victorian idealism, particularly as these related to their intellectual capabilities and their career goals, provided that she deemed these capabilities and goals to be appropriate according to her notion of femininity. She allowed their thoughts and attitudes to sometimes creep dangerously close to boundaries challenged by the New Woman, only then to completely withdraw back into a world of nostalgic romance, one safely directed by a solidly mid-Victorian sense of morality. In Janet Galligani Casey’s words, Corelli provided readers with ‘the illusion of a feminist spirit couched in a fundamentally conventional Victorian ideology’ (Casey 166).
Corelli’s heroines, like herself, challenged many late Victorian conservative idealistic notions about women’s lives. Like their creator, most of her heroines (such as The Master-Christian’s successful, spiritual artist Angela Sovrani, The Sorrows of Satan’s indisputably feminine novelist of some genius Mavis Clare, and the mystical and philosophical narrator of The Life Everlasting) were seeped in suitably feminine though independent occupations. They did not live the life of the typical wife and mother – immersed in what Arnold Bennett called the ‘business of domesticity’. 28 And, Corelli’s fiction leaves readers in absolutely no doubt, the lives of these women are far to be preferred and admired than those of the multitude of women who spent their lives fulfilling the typical roles of wife and mother – women who were rarely presented with the opportunity of exercising their intellectual capabilities.
Therefore, although she opposed what she saw as the coarse exhibitionism of the New Woman, her writing, and her life, did present continual challenges to conservative opinions about the proper role of women. In The Master-Christian, she issued a challenge:
For why should a woman think? Why should a woman dare to be a genius? It seemed very strange! How much more natural for her to marry some decent man of established position and be content with babies and plain needlework! 29
In The Sorrows of Satan, she reiterated this challenge, asking if women ‘should be kept in their places as men’s drudges or toys - as wives, mothers, nurses, cooks, menders of socks and shirts, and housekeepers generally’? 30 Corelli’s answer, in her life and her writing, was a resounding ‘No’.
By Sharon Crozier-De Rosa
Bennett, Arnold. Hilda Lessways. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1976 .
Bigland, Eileen. Corelli: The Woman and the Legend. London: Jarrolds, 1953.
Casey, Janet Galligani. ‘Marie Corelli and Fin de Siècle Feminism.’ English Literature in Transition 35 (1992): 163-178.
Corelli, Marie. ‘My Wonderful Wife’ (1895). In Cameos. New York: Books for Libraries, 1970.
---. ‘The Advance of Woman.’ In Free Opinions Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1905. 188-205.
---. The Mighty Atom. London: Methuen, 1912 .
---. The Sorrows of Satan or The Strange Experience of One Geoffrey Tempest, Millionaire. A Romance. London: Methuen, 1895.
---. Woman, — or Suffragette? A Question of National Choice. London: Pearson, 1907.
Crozier-De Rosa, Sharon. ‘Marie Corelli's British new woman: A threat to empire?’ The History of the Family 14 (2009): 416-429.
---. The Middle Class Novels of Arnold Bennett and Marie Corelli: Realising the Ideals and Emotions of Late Victorian Women. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2009.
Duffy, Maureen. A Thousand Capricious Chances. A History of the Methuen List 1889-1989. London: Methuen, 1989.
Federico, Annette. The Idol of Suburbia. Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000.
Feltes, N. N. Literary Capital and the Late Victorian Novel. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
Keating, Peter. ‘Introduction’. In Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan or The Strange Experience of One Geoffrey Tempest, Millionaire. A Romance. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. ix-xx.
Kowalczyk, Richard L. ‘In Vanished Summertime: Marie Corelli and Popular Culture’. Journal of Popular Culture 7 (1974): 850-863.
Leavis, Q. D., Fiction and the Reading Public. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1979 .
Ledger, Sally. ‘The new woman and the crisis of Victorianism.’ In Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken (eds.), Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 22-44.
‘Marie Corelli Brings Suit. Famous Novelist Objects to Private Life on Postal Cards.’ New York Times, 13 May 1906.
Masters, Brian. Now Barabbas Was a Rotter. The Extraordinary Life of Marie Corelli. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1978.
McAleer, Joseph. Passion’s Fortune. The Story of Mills & Boon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
McDowell, Margaret B. ‘Marie Corelli’. In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 34. British Novelists, 1890-1929: Traditionalists, ed. by Thomas F. Staley. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985. 82-89.
Ransom, Teresa. The Mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers. Phoenix Mill and New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999.
Rubinstein, David. Before the Suffragettes. Women’s Emancipation in the 1890s. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1986.
1.Brian Masters, Now Barabbas Was a Rotter. The Extraordinary Life of Marie Corelli, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1978, pp.3, 6.
2. Even Corelli’s closest competing novelists, although they sold extremely well, did not touch her success. Hall Caine, who, at the height of his career, sold 45,000 copies per year, was Corelli’s closest rival. He was followed by the third most popular author of the time, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, who, in her best years, averaged about 35,000 copies, and then by H. G. Wells, who at the peak of his career sold approximately 15,000 novels annually (Margaret B McDowell, ‘Marie Corelli’, in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 34. British Novelists, 1890-1929: Traditionalists, Thomas F. Staley (ed.), Gale Research Company, Detroit, 1985, pp. 82-89, p84.) Indeed, McAleer points out that Corelli remained the highest selling female writer on the publishing firm Methuen’s books until her death in 1924 (Joseph McAleer, Passion’s Fortune. The Story of Mills & Boon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999, p14).
3.Annette Federico, The Idol of Suburbia. Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London, 2000, p.2 and Masters, p.6.
4.Maureen Duffy, A Thousand Capricious Chances. A History of the Methuen List 1889-1989, Methuen, London, 1989, p.8 and Masters, p.107.
5. Janet Galligani Casey, ‘Marie Corelli and Fin de Siècle Feminism’, English Literature in Transition, vol. 35, no. 2, 1992, pp. 163-178; Annette Federico, The Idol of Suburbia. Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London, 2000; N. N. Feltes, Literary Capital and the Late Victorian Novel, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1993; Richard L. Kowalczyk, ‘In Vanished Summertime: Marie Corelli and Popular Culture’, Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 7, no. 4, 1974, pp. 850-863; Brian Masters, Now Barabbas Was a Rotter. The Extraordinary Life of Marie Corelli, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1978; and, Teresa Ransom, The Mysterious Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers, Sutton Publishing, Phoenix Mill and New York, 1999.
6. Federico, p.2.
7. Even though Corelli railed against the morally dubious and controversial New Woman figure, she ‘nevertheless raised the emotional temperature to a lurid pitch of unsatisfied and therefore constantly itching desire which is simply that lust she so often condemns’ (Duffy, p.10).
8. Eileen Bigland, Corelli: The Woman and the Legend, Jarrolds, London, 1953, p.63 and p.127.
9. Federico, p.15.
10. Quoted in Federico, p.14.
Leavis, Q. D., Fiction and the Reading Public, Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1979 , p.137.
11. ‘Marie Corelli Brings Suit. Famous Novelist Objects to Private Life on Postal Cards’, New York Times, 13 May 1906.
12. Peter Keating, ‘Introduction’ in Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996, p. xii.
13. Marie Corelli, Woman, — or Suffragette? A Question of National Choice, Pearson, London, 1907, p.3.
14. Marie Corelli, Woman, — or Suffragette?, p.3.
15. Marie Corelli, ‘The Advance of Woman’, in Free Opinions Freely Expressed on Certain Phases of Modern Social Life and Conduct, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1905, pp.188-205, p.204.
16. Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, p.386.
17. See Corelli, The Mighty Atom, pp.17, 104;
18.Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, pp.81, 371-372, 405.
19. Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, p.306.
20. Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, p.405.
21. Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, pp.305-306.
22.Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, pp.221, 305-306. For more anti-New Woman sentiment see, for example, Corelli, The Mighty Atom, p.104. Corelli’s derision of New Women writers does not end with the novelists. She also singles out female journalists of the era. These women do not fulfil any of the criteria of Corelli’s ideal women. Nor do their occupations. ‘Ill-educated lady-paragraphists’ who scrounge up gossip for a small sum of money lack feminine dignity – like Corelli’s Old Lady Maravale who, ‘rather reduced in circumstances, writes a guinea’s worth of scandal a week for one of the papers’ (Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, p.260). Moreover, just to ensure that none of Lady Maravale’s lack of feminine dignity escapes the audience, Corelli later portrays her ‘gorging’ herself on chicken salad and truffles (Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, p.271). David Rubinstein writes that the number of female journalists during this era rose as the publication of women’s magazines increased and as typically female topics, such as fashion and society news, gained more attention in the press. For more information on this area of employment, see Rubinstein, David, Before the Suffragettes. Women’s Emancipation in the 1890s, Harvester Press, Brighton, Sussex, 1986, pp.73-86.
23. Sally Ledger, ‘The new woman and the crisis of Victorianism’, in Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken (Ed.s), Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siecle, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, pp.22-44, p.30. Ledger also cites the example of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula. When one of the ‘good’ or innocent girls in the novel is transformed into ‘an oversexed vampire’ she has to ‘be massacred in the most appalling way by the brave young English men of the piece in order to be removed as a threat to the British ‘race’’ (Ledger, 1995, p30).
24. Federico, 2000, pp.110-111.
25. Marie Corelli, ‘My Wonderful Wife’ (1895), in Cameos, Books for Libraries, New York, 1970 , pp.180, 182, 186, 195 and 199.
26. Corelli, Cameos, p.181.
27. See, for example, Federico, The Idol of Suburbia and Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, The Middle Class Novels of Arnold Bennett and Marie Corelli: Realising the Ideals and Emotions of Late Victorian Women, The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York, 2009.
28. See Arnold Bennett, Hilda Lessways, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976 .
29. Corelli, The Master-Christian, p.587.
30. Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan, p.173.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915)
Even by the standards of some Victorian writers, Mary Elizabeth Braddon was a prolific novelist. Her last novel, and eighty-fifth book, entitled Mary, was published posthumously in 1916. She ranged extensively in style and as she produced novels frequently between 1860 and her death, her work also provides a useful landscape to read the cultural changes which occurred in the changing decades of the mid to late nineteenth century. Although chiefly remembered as a ‘sensation’ writer, that species of literature which rose to prominence in the 1860s and seemed to die away as fast as it had arrived, Braddon also wrote a number of ‘realist’ novels, the most notable perhaps being the adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s masterpiece, Madame Bovary entitled The Doctor’s Wife, published in 1864. Braddon was also the editor of two noteworthy publications. Between its foundation in 1866 to its eventual cessation in 1899, Braddon was the editor of Belgravia Magazine and also edited for Temple Bar which was produced monthly and published, in serialised form, one of her most popular novels Lady Audley’s Secret, between January 1862 and January 1863. It has been stated that ‘her capricious literary output centred around some eighty novels, whose form ranged from melodrama to naturalism, from romance to satire, and whose ideological stance composed both the challenging and the conformist’1 , coupled with this is the timescale of her writings which stretched ‘from the eve of the American Civil War to the outbreak of the Great War in Europe,’2 and Braddon’s literary significance becomes more pronounced.
Today if Braddon is remembered at all, it is chiefly for her two great sensation novels, Lady Audley’s Secret and Aurora Floyd which were published within a year of each other in the early 1860s. At the very least, this seems lamentable considering the vast literary produce and tremendously rich style of the writer. Lucy Clifford, a correspondent of Braddon foresaw this reduction in her work. In a letter of 1911, Lucy wrote: ‘In her far distant years (to come) you will be sifted down, probably to a dozen or so, and live by those; no one in the more and more hurrying world will have time to read very much of anyone I expect. It is horrible to think of.’ 3 Robert Lee Wolff, who has been largely responsible for the resurgence in interest in Braddon’s works, takes this further by stating, ‘Not even a dozen Braddon novels are now remembered, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon has been sifted not down but out.’4 However this has not always been the case as Braddon enjoyed enormous popularity, especially in the first part of her career. Just two reviews of the time serve to illustrate her popularity. In 1862, a reviewer wrote she ‘seems likely to equal, if not succeed, that of Mr Wilkie Collins in popular estimation’5 and two years later, another reviewer stated, ‘even the popularity of the Author of ‘Waverley’ did not equal that of Miss Braddon, if we measure popularity by numbers.’ 6 Unlike many of her male counterparts such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Walter Scott, Braddon seems to have been largely forgotten or remembered only for the two sensation novels which arguably made her name.
Sensation fiction, the genre in which Braddon first made her name, received many discrediting reviews from the 1860s onwards. Henry Mansel, who was one of the main attackers of such literature, stated in 1863 that it was ‘written to meet an ephemeral demand, aspiring only to ephemeral existence,’ 7 which suggests its somewhat transience importance and popularity. Other reviewers blamed the literature for encouraging social corruption by glamorising criminality. In 1868 Francis Paget wrote, ‘they [readers] wallow from day to day, amid filth of the most defiling kind. The subjects which, of dire necessity, occupy the mind of the Judge of a Divorce Court, occupy theirs of free and deliberate choice. And their appetite grows by what it feeds on, just as the opium-eater requires stronger and stronger doses of the drug that destroys him.’ 8 The destructive element of the literature and its degrading nature upon respectability perhaps injured the reception of Braddon’s first works as she too was dealing in the supply of this ‘literary dram-drinking.’ 9 Much sensation fiction was also deemed to be socially threatening as it drew upon real life contemporary events which situated the action of the novels very definitely in present day Victorian society. Braddon too drew very heavily from reports in the newspapers as shown in just two comments of 1913. She stated, ‘never mind the books, read the newspapers’ 10 as ‘I undoubtedly believe that they give the best picture of the events of the day.’11 Again by mingling real life criminality with fiction, the sensation genre was deemed to be morally corrupting and socially dangerous by some reviewers of the time. However Braddon’s gender, as well as her relationships, may also have injured her reputation.
Braddon’s personal life may have had some bearing upon how her work was received. Her home life was far from conventional, nor indeed what was expected of a respectable Victorian woman, and this was used in some ways to discredit her works. In 1861, Braddon began to live with the publisher John Maxwell. He could not marry her, however, since his first wife was still alive, and confined in a lunatic asylum. Braddon became the stepmother to his five children, 12 but as she was living out of wedlock with an already married man, her reputation was immediately tarnished. This was worsened as she also bore Maxwell six illegitimate children, the first of whom was born in 1862. Even when she married Maxwell in 1874, on the death of his first wife, her reputation was still damaged. Indeed, many reviewers suggested that it was a case of life imitating art as her two most famous novels featured bigamy very prominently. The New York Times stated, ‘Having, like so many of her heroines, committed a species of bigamy, she has at last been found out […] she thus became, not indeed a bigamist, but, at least, an accomplice in bigamy.’ 13 Braddon was undoubtedly injured by her private life becoming public, even though many of her male counterparts had similarly unconventional personal lives. If one takes any moral considerations out of this equation, Braddon’s sheer talent for multi-tasking must be applauded. She was the mother to six children, five of whom survived infancy, and the step-mother to five other children, and still she was able to produce over eighty books and edit two successful monthly publications. It would seem that Braddon had almost inexhaustible reserves of energy and enthusiasm for her work. As her son William recalled, ‘she had no stated hours, no part of the day to be held secure from disturbance and intrusions. She was never inaccessible. Everybody went uninvited to her library, we children, the servants, importunate visitors.’ 14
Braddon also had a very long and prolific correspondence with the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This sheds a lot of light upon her relationship with the works she produced and her literary aspirations. She describes being ‘always divided by a noble desire to attain something like excellence and a very ignoble wish to earn plenty of money’ 15 which most succinctly shows the duality in her circumstances. With a young and growing family to support, it became essential for Braddon to write prolifically and frequently for her public, even though she also harboured the desire to write works which achieved higher literary status. Indeed for many years, especially from the mid-1860s onwards, Braddon produced around two novels a year: one ‘sensational’ in the broadest sense of the term and the other trying to fulfil her aspirations of higher literary endeavour. In a letter of 1866, six years after she published her first novel Three Times Dead, she writes again of the financial commitments she must meet before writing works that would satisfy her creatively. She states, ‘[I am] going in for a strong sensational story for ‘Belgravia’ not because I particularly believe in ‘sensation’, but because I think the public shilling can only be extracted by strong measures,’ 16 and laments, ‘the curse of serial writing and hand to mouth composition has set its seal upon me, and I have had to write a lot of things together.’ 17 Regrettably though, even today Braddon is rarely read for anything other than the sensation fiction which she herself saw more as a necessity rather than a passion.
Braddon also had a very strong interest in French writers. She ‘studied the French realist writers-Flaubert, Balzac and Zola-extensively and wrote a long critical essay on Emile Zola that was never published.’18 Many of her own novels, too, were translated into French and sold to the French market. Braddon was clearly more than a sensation writer: she was an educated woman with a real talent for satisfying the public tastes with her sensation fiction, who strove to achieve greater literary ideals at the same time.
Some critics rightly challenge the supposed ‘ephemeral’ existence of sensation fiction and instead situate the literature as a record of Victorian life with enduring appeal and importance. Andrew Maunder writes, ‘it is now acknowledged that if sensation fiction is cut out of the picture it is impossible to gain an accurate sense of nineteenth century historiography and of what the Victorian novel meant to the Victorians […] Sensation fiction and the critical furore it provoked is now seen as a key event in the nineteenth century, involving some of the wider cultural and social preoccupations of the mid-Victorian period.’ 19 Whilst it is difficult to disagree with this statement, Braddon’s non-sensational fiction could also have the same function. Her lament to Bulwer Lytton, ‘I want to serve two masters. I want to be artistic and to please you. I want to be Sensational, and to please Mudies’ subscribers…Can the sensational be elevated by art, and redeemed from all its coarseness?’, 20 expresses Braddon’s wish to be remembered not just for her ‘sensational’ works but also for her other novels. Despite Braddon’s large oeuvre, it seems lamentable that so far ‘the rediscovery of Braddon has […] been sharply limited to the glorious Lady Audley’s Secret’ while her other works have been neglected. 21
1.Jennifer Carnell and Graham Law, ‘”Our Author’: Braddon in the Provincial Weeklies”,’ in Beyond Sensation: Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Context, ed. Marlene Tromp, Pamela K. Gilbert, and Aeron Haynie (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000), 127.
2. Lynn Pykett, ‘Afterword’, in Beyond Sensation, 277.
3. Lucy Clifford (Mrs W.K. Clifford) to M.E.B (Mrs Maxwell), Chilworth Street, July 25 , Wolff Collection.
4. Robert Lee Wolff, Sensational Victorian: The Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (New York and London: Garland Pub., 1979),15.
5. Court Journal, 11 October 1862, 978.
6. ‘Henry Dunbar’, Sixpenny Magazine VIII, 8 June 1864, 84.
7. Henry Mansel, ‘Sensation Novels.’ Quarterly Review 113 (1863): 485 .
8. Francis Paget, ‘Afterword’ to Lucretia; or the Heroine of the Nineteenth Century. A Correspondance Sensational and Sentimental (London: Joseph Masters and Sons, 1868). Reprinted in Varieties of Women’s Sensation Fiction: 1855-1890: Volume I, Sensationalism and the Sensation Debate, ed. Andrew Maunder (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2004), 124.
10. ‘Miss Braddon,’ Daily Telegraph, 4 October 1913, 9.
12. For a brief chronology of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s life, see Lady Audley’s Secret, ed. with an introduction by David Skilton (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1987).
13. ‘Miss Braddon as a Bigamist’, New York Times, 22 November 1874, 1.
14. W.B Maxwell, Time Gathered (London: Hutchinson, 1937), 277.
15. Robert Lee Wolff, ‘Devoted Disciple: The Letters of Mary Elizabeth Braddon to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1862-1873’, Harvard Literary Bulletin 12 (1974): 25.
16. Mary Elizabeth Braddon to Bulwer, No. 24 [c. August 20, 1866), in Robert Lee Wolff, Sensational Victorian: The Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, (New York and London: Garland Pub., 1979),179.
17. Wolff, ‘Devoted Disciple,’ 11.
18. Wolff, Sensational Victorian, 317-320.
19. Andrew Maunder, ‘Introduction’ to Varieties of Women’s Sensation Fiction, 1855-1890: Domestic Sensationalism (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2004), ii.
20. Wolff, ‘Devoted Disciple,’14.
James Kincaid in Beyond Sensation, xii.
By Ruth Naomi Morris, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
Eminent Women (Editors)
I have in front of me a short biography by Mathilde Blind of Marie-Jeanne Roland (1754-1793) who was executed during the Reign of Terror, famously saying ‘O Liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name!’ (Mathilde Blind: Madame Roland. London: W.H. Allen 1886). Apart from its authorship, what makes this book interesting for us is that it was published as one of a series called ‘Eminent Women’, and what makes that interesting is the choice of subjects and authors. My copy of Madame Roland lists the following as either already published or in preparation (here distinguished by an asterisk), Crown 8vo, @ 3s 6d. I do not know if all the volumes appeared, or if further ones were added.
Mathilde Blind: George Eliot
A. Mary F. Robinson: Emily Brontë
Bertha Thomas: George Sand
Anne Gilchrist: Mary Lamb
Helen Zimmern: Maria Edgeworth
Julia Ward Howe: Margaret Fuller
Mrs E.R. Pitman: Elizabeth Fry
Vernon Lee: Countess of Albany
Mrs Fenwick Miller: Harriet Martineau
Elizabeth Robins Pennell: Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Mrs Kennard: Rachel
Mrs E. Clarke: Susannah Wesley
Bella Duffy: Madame de Stael
Mary A. Robinson: Margaret of Navarre
The series editor for this list of women on women was – I suppose – a man, John W. Ingram. One may speculate on how many of these women would have made it into a similar series published in, say, 1936, 1986 or 2010; and how many of the authors are now known even to readers of The Latchkey?
By David Charles Rose.
David Charles Rose is the General Editor and founder of The Oscholars and an associate editor of The Latchkey.