A Romance of Two Worlds

by Marie Corelli

IT is an unromantic thing for an author to have had no literary vicissitudes. One cannot expect to be considered interesting, unless one has come up to London with the proverbial solitary 'shilling,' and gone about hungry and footsore, begging from one hard-hearted publisher's house to another with one's perpetually rejected manuscript under one's arm. One ought to have consumed the 'midnight oil;' to have 'coined one's heart's blood' (to borrow the tragic expression of a contemporary gentleman-novelist); to have sacrificed one's self-respect by metaphorically crawling on all-fours to the critical faculty; and to have become ęsthetically cadaverous and blear-eyed through the action of inspired dyspepsia. Now, I am obliged to confess that I have done none of these things, which, to quote the Prayer-book, I ought to have done. I have had no difficulty in making my career or winning my public. And I attribute my good fortune to the simple fact that I have always tried to write straight from my own heart to the hearts of others, regardless of opinions and indifferent to results. My object in writing has never been, and never will be, to concoct a mere story which shall bring me in a certain amount of cash or notoriety, but solely because I wish to say something which, be it ill or well said, is the candid and independent expression of a thought which I will have uttered at all risks.

In this spirit I wrote my first book, 'A Romance of Two Worlds,' now in its seventh edition. It was the simply worded narration of a singular psychical experience, and included certain theories on religion which I, personally speaking, accept and believe. I had no sort of literary pride in my work whatsoever; there was nothing of self in the wish I had, that my ideas, such as they were, should reach the public, for I had no particular need of money, and certainly no hankering after fame. When the book was written I doubted whether it would ever find a publisher, though I determined to try and launch it if possible. My notion was to offer it to Arrowsmith as a shilling railway volume, under the title 'Lifted Up.' But in the interim, as a kind of test of its merit or demerit, I sent the MS. to Mr. George Bentley, head of the long-established and famous Bentley publishing firm. It ran the gauntlet of his 'readers' first, and they all advised its summary rejection. Among these 'readers' at that time was Mr. Hall Caine. His strictures on my work were peculiarly bitter, though, strange to relate, he afterwards forgot the nature of his own report. For, on being introduced to me at a ball given by Miss Eastlake, when my name was made and my success assured, he blandly remarked, before a select circle of interested auditors, that he 'had had the pleasure of recommending' my first book to Mr. Bentley! Comment on this were needless and unkind: he tells stories so admirably that I readily excuse him for his 'slip of memory,' and accept the whole incident as a delightful example of his inventive faculty.

His severe judgment pronounced upon me, combined with similar, but perhaps milder, severity on the part of the other 'readers,' had, however, an unexpected result. Mr. George Bentley, moved by curiosity, and possibly by compassion for the impending fate of a young woman so 'sat upon' by his selected censors, decided to read my MS. himself. Happily for me, the consequence of his unprejudiced and impartial perusal was acceptance; and I still keep the kind and encouraging letter he wrote to me at the time, informing me of his decision, and stating the terms of his offer. These terms were, a sum down for one year's rights, the copyright of the work to remain my own entire property. I did not then understand what an advantage this retaining of my copyright in my own possession was to prove to me, financially speaking; but I am willing to do Mr. Bentley the full justice of supposing that he foresaw the success of the book; and that, therefore, his action in leaving me the sole owner of my then very small literary estate redounds very much to his credit, and is an evident proof amongst many of his manifest honour and integrity. Of course, the copyright of an unsuccessful book is valueless; but my 'Romance' was destined to prove a sound investment, though I never dreamed that it would be so. Glad of my chance of reaching the public with what I had to say, I gratefully closed with Mr. Bentley's proposal. He considered the title 'Lifted Up' as lacking attractiveness; it was therefore discarded, and Mr. Eric Mackay, the poet, gave the book its present name, 'A Romance of Two Worlds.'

Once published, the career of the 'Romance' became singular, and totally apart from that of any other so-called 'novel.' It only received four reviews, all brief and distinctly unfavourable. The one which appeared in the dignified Morning Post is a fair sample of the rest. I keep it by me preciously, because it serves as a wholesome tonic to my mind, and proves to me that when a leading journal can so 'review' a book, one need fear nothing from the literary knowledge, acumen, or discernment of reviewers. I quote it verbatim: 'Miss Corelli would have been better advised had she embodied her ridiculous ideas in a sixpenny pamphlet. The names of Heliobas and Zara are alone sufficient indications of the dulness of this book.' This was all. No explanation was vouchsafed as to why my ideas were 'ridiculous,' though such explanation was justly due; nor did the reviewer state why he (or she) found the 'names' of characters 'sufficient indications' of dulness, a curious discovery which I believe is unique. However, the so-called 'critique' did one good thing; it moved me to sincere laughter, and showed me what I might expect from the critical brethren in these days—days which can no longer boast of a Lord Macaulay, a brilliant, if bitter, Jeffrey, or a generous Sir Walter Scott.

THE DRAWING-ROOM THE DRAWING-ROOM

To resume: the four 'notices' having been grudgingly bestowed, the Press 'dropped' the 'Romance,' considering, no doubt, that it was 'quashed,' and would die the usual death of 'women's novels,' as they are contemptuously called, in the prescribed year. But it did nothing of the sort. Ignored by the Press, it attracted the public. Letters concerning it and its theories began to pour in from strangers in all parts of the United Kingdom; and at the end of its twelvemonth's run in the circulating libraries Mr. Bentley brought it out in one volume in his 'Favorite' series. Then it started off at full gallop—the 'great majority' got at it, and, what is more, kept at it. It was 'pirated' in America; chosen out and liberally paid for by Baron Tauchnitz for the 'Tauchnitz' series; translated into various languages on the Continent, and became a topic of social discussion. A perfect ocean of correspondence flowed in upon me from India, Africa, Australia, and America, and at this very time I count through correspondence a host of friends in all parts of the world whom I do not suppose I shall ever see; friends who even carry their enthusiasm so far as to place their houses at my disposal for a year or two years—and surely the force of hospitality can no further go! With all these attentions, I began to find out the advantage my practical publisher had given me in the retaining of my copyright; my 'royalties' commenced, increased, and accumulated with every quarter, and at the present moment continue still to accumulate, so much so, that the 'Romance of Two Worlds' alone, apart from all my other works, is the source of a very pleasant income. And I have great satisfaction in knowing that its prolonged success is not due to any influence save that which is contained within itself. It certainly has not been helped on by the Press, for since I began my career six years ago, I have never had a word of open encouragement or kindness from any leading English critic. The only real 'reviews' I ever received worthy of the name appeared in the Spectator and the Literary World. The first was on my book 'Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self,' and in this the over-abundant praise in the beginning was all smothered by the unmitigated abuse at the end. The second in the Literary World was eminently generous; it dealt with my last book, 'The Soul of Lilith.' So taken aback was I with surprise at receiving an all-through kindly, as well as scholarly, criticism from any quarter of the Press, that, though I knew nothing about the Literary World, I wrote a letter of thanks to my unknown reviewer, begging the editor to forward it in the right direction. He did so, and my generous critic turned out to be—a woman—a literary woman, too, fighting a hard fight herself, who would have had an excuse to 'slate' me as an unrequired rival in literature had she so chosen, but who, instead of this easy course, adopted the more difficult path of justice and unselfishness.

THE LIBRARY THE LIBRARY

After the 'Romance of Two Worlds' I wrote 'Vendetta;' then followed 'Thelma,' and then 'Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self,' which, among other purely personal rewards, brought me a charming autograph letter from the late Lord Tennyson, full of valuable encouragement. Then followed 'Wormwood: A Drama of Paris'—now in its fifth edition; 'Ardath' and 'Thelma' being in their seventh editions. My publishers seldom advertise the number of my editions, which is, I suppose, the reason why the continuous 'run' of the books escapes the Press comment of the 'great success' supposed to attend various other novels which only attain to third or fourth editions. 'The Soul of Lilith,' published only last year, ran through four editions in three-volume form; it is issued now in one volume by Messrs. Bentley, to whom, however, I have not offered any new work. A change of publishers is sometimes advisable; but I have a sincere personal liking for Mr. George Bentley, who is himself an author of distinct originality and ability, though his literary gifts are only known to his own private circle. His book of essays, entitled 'After Business,' is a delightful volume, full of point and brilliancy, two specially admirable papers being those on Villon and Carlyle, while it would be difficult to discover a more 'taking' prose bit than the concluding chapter, 'Under an Old Poplar.'

A very foolish and erroneous rumour has of late been circulated concerning me, asserting that I owe a great measure of my literary success to the kindly recognition and interest of the Queen. I take the present opportunity to clear up this perverse misunderstanding. My books have been running successfully through several editions for six years, and the much-commented-upon presentation of a complete set of them to Her Majesty took place only last year. If it were possible to regret the honour of the Queen's acceptance of these volumes, I should certainly have cause to do so, as the extraordinary spite and malice that has since been poured on my unoffending head has shown me a very bad side of human nature, which I am sorry to have seen. There is very little cause to envy me in this matter. I have but received the courteously formal thanks of the Queen and the Empress Frederick, conveyed through the medium of their ladies-in-waiting, for the special copies of the books their Majesties were pleased to admire; yet for this simple and quite ordinary honour I have been subjected to such forms of gratuitous abuse as I did not think possible to a 'just and noble' English Press. I have often wondered why I was not equally assailed when the Queen of Italy, not content with merely 'accepting' a copy of the 'Romance of Two Worlds,' sent me an autograph

THE STUDY THE STUDY

portrait of herself, accompanied by a charming letter, a souvenir which I value, not at all because the sender is a queen, but because she is a sweet and noble woman whose every action is marked by grace and unselfishness, and who has deservedly won the title given her by her people, 'the blessing of Italy.' I repeat, I owe nothing whatever of my popularity, such as it is, to any 'royal' notice or favour, though I am naturally glad to have been kindly recognised and encouraged by those 'thronėd powers' who command the nation's utmost love and loyalty. But my appeal for a hearing was first made to the great public, and the public responded; moreover, they do still respond with so much heartiness and goodwill, that I should be the most ungrateful scribbler that ever scribbled if I did not (despite Press 'drubbings' and the amusing total ignoring of my very existence by certain cliquey literary magazines) take up my courage in both hands, as the French say, and march steadily onward to such generous cheering and encouragement.

I am told by an eminent literary authority that critics are 'down upon me' because I write about the supernatural. I do not entirely believe the eminent literary authority, inasmuch as I have not always written about the supernatural. Neither 'Vendetta,' nor 'Thelma,' nor 'Wormwood' is supernatural. But, says the eminent literary authority, why write at all, at any time, about the supernatural? Why? Because I feel the existence of the supernatural, and feeling it, I must speak of it. I understand that the religion we profess to follow emanates from the supernatural. And I presume that churches exist for the solemn worship of the supernatural. Wherefore, if the supernatural be thus universally acknowledged as a guide for thought and morals, I fail to see why I, and as many others as choose to do so, should not write on the subject. An author has quite as much right to characterise angels and saints in his or her pages as a painter has to depict them on his canvas. And I do not keep my belief in the supernatural as a sort of special mood to be entered into on Sundays only; it accompanies me in my daily round, and helps me along in all my business. But I distinctly wish it to be understood that I am neither a 'Spiritualist' nor a 'Theosophist.' I am not a 'strong-minded' woman, with egotistical ideas of a 'mission.' I have no other supernatural belief than that which is taught by the Founder of our Faith, and this can never be shaken from me or 'sneered down.' If critics object to my dealing with this in my books, they are very welcome to do so; their objections will not turn me from what they are pleased to consider the error of my ways. I know that unrelieved naturalism and atheism are much more admired subjects with the critical faculty; but the public differ from this view. The public, being in the main healthy-minded and honest, do not care for positivism and pessimism. They like to believe in something better than themselves; they like to rest on the ennobling idea that there is a great loving Maker of this splendid Universe, and they have no lasting affection for any author whose tendency and teaching is to despise the hope of heaven, and 'reason away' the existence of God. It is very clever, no doubt, and very brilliant to deny the Creator; it is as if a monkey should, while being caged and fed by man, deny man's existence. Such a circumstance would make us laugh, of course; we should think it uncommonly 'smart' of the monkey. But we should not take his statement for a fact all the same.

Of the mechanical part of my work there is little to say. I write every day from ten in the morning till two in the afternoon, alone and undisturbed, save for the tinpot tinkling of unmusical neighbours' pianos, and the perpetual organ-grinding which is freely permitted to interfere ad libitum with the quiet and comfort of all the patient brain-workers who pay rent and taxes in this great and glorious metropolis. I generally scribble off the first rough draft of a story very rapidly in pencil; then I copy it out in pen and ink, chapter by chapter, with fastidious care, not only because I like a neat manuscript, but because I think everything that is worth doing at all is worth doing well; and I do not see why my publishers should have to pay for more printers' errors than the printers themselves make necessary. I find, too, that in the gradual process of copying by hand, the original draft, like a painter's first sketch, gets improved and enlarged. No one sees my manuscript before it goes to press, as I am now able to refuse to submit my work to the judgment of 'readers.' These worthies treated me roughly in the beginning, but they will never have the chance again. I correct my proofs myself, though I regret to say my instructions and revisions are not always followed. In my novel 'Wormwood' I corrected the French article 'le chose' to 'la chose' three times, but apparently the printers preferred their own French, for it is still 'le chose' in the 'Favorite' edition, and the error is stereotyped. In accordance with the arrangement made by Mr. George Bentley for my first book, I retain to myself sole possession of all my copyrights, and as all my novels are successes, the financial results are distinctly pleasing. America, of course, is always a thorn in the side of an author. The 'Romance,' 'Vendetta,' 'Thelma' and 'Ardath' were all 'pirated' over there before the passing of the American Copyright Act, it being apparently out of Messrs. Bentley & Son's line to make even an attempt to protect my rights. After the Act was passed, I was paid a sum for 'Wormwood,' and a larger sum for 'The Soul of Lilith,' but, as everyone knows, the usual honorarium offered by American publishers for the rights of a successful English novel are totally inadequate to the sales they are able to command. American critics, however, have been very good to me. They have at least read my books before starting to review them, which is a great thing. I have always kept my 'Tauchnitz' rights, and very pleasant have all my dealings been with the courteous and generous Baron. All wanderers on the Continent love the 'Tauchnitz' volumes—their neatness, handy form, and remarkably clear type give them precedence over every other foreign series. Baron Tauchnitz pays his authors excellently well, and takes a literary as well as commercial interest in their fortunes.

FACSIMILE OF MARIE CORELLI'S MS. AS PREPARED FOR THE PRESS

A page of the "Romance of Two Worlds" FACSIMILE OF MARIE CORELLI'S MS. AS PREPARED FOR THE PRESS
A page of the "Romance of Two Worlds"

Perhaps one of the pleasantest things connected with my 'success' is the popularity I have won in many quarters of the Continent without any exertion on my own part. My name is as well known in Germany as anywhere, while in Sweden they have been good enough to elect me as one of their favourite authors, thanks to the admirable translations made of all my books by Miss Emilie Kullmann, of Stockholm, whose energy did not desert her even when she had so difficult a task to perform as the rendering of 'Ardath' into Swedish. In Italy and Spain 'Vendetta,' translated into the languages of those countries, is popular. Madame Emma Guarducci-Giaconi is the translator of 'Wormwood' into Italian, and her almost literal and perfect rendering has been running as the feuilleton in the Florentine journal, La Nazione, under the title 'L'Alcoolismo: Un Dramma di Parigi.' The 'Romance of Two Worlds' is to be had in Russian, so I am told; and it will shortly be published at Athens, rendered into modern Greek. While engaged in writing this article, I have received a letter asking for permission to translate this same 'Romance' into one of the dialects of North-west India, a request I shall very readily grant. In its Eastern dress the book will, I understand, be published at Lucknow. I may here state that I gain no financial advantage from these numerous translations, nor do I seek any. Sometimes the translators do not even ask my permission to translate, but content themselves with sending me a copy of the book when completed, without any word of explanation.

And now to wind up; if I have made a name, if I have made a career, as it seems I have, I have only one piece of pride connected with it. Not pride in my work, for no one with a grain of sense or modesty would, in these days, dare to consider his or her literary efforts of much worth, as compared with what has already been done by the past great authors. My pride is simply this: that I have fought my fight alone, and that I have no thanks to offer to anyone, save those legitimately due to the publisher who launched my first book, but who, it must be remembered, would, as a good business man, have unquestionably published nothing else of mine had I been a failure. I count no 'friend on the Press,' and I owe no 'distinguished critic' any debt of gratitude. I have come, by happy chance, straight into close and sympathetic union with my public, and attained to independence and good fortune while still young and able to enjoy both. An 'incomprehensibly successful' novelist I was called last summer by an irritated correspondent of Life, who chanced to see me sharing in the full flow of pleasure and social amusement during the 'season' at Homburg. Well, if it be so, this 'incomprehensible success' has been attained, I rejoice to say, without either 'log-roller' or 'boom,' and were I of the old Greek faith, I should pour a libation to the gods for giving me this victory. Certainly I used to hope for what Britishers aptly call 'fair play' from the critics, but I have ceased to expect that now. It is evidently a delight to them to abuse me, else they would not go out of their way to do it; and I have no wish to interfere with either their 'copy' or their fun. The public are beyond them altogether. And Literature is like that famous hill told of in the 'Arabian Nights,' where threatening anonymous voices shouted the most deadly insults and injuries to anyone who attempted to climb it. If the adventurer turned back to listen, he was instantly changed into stone; but if he pressed boldly on, he reached the summit and found magic talismans. Now I am only at the commencement of the journey, and am ascending the hill with a light heart and in good humour. I hear the taunting voices on all sides, but I do not stop to listen, nor have I once turned back. My eyes are fixed on the distant peak of the mountain, and my mind is set on arriving there if possible. My ambition may be too great, and I may never arrive. That is a matter for the fates to settle. But, in the meanwhile, I enjoy climbing. I have nothing to grumble about. I consider Literature the noblest Art in the world, and have no complaint whatever to urge against it as a profession. Its rewards, whether great or small, are sufficient for me, inasmuch as I love my work, and love makes all things easy.

signature of Marie Corelli
Note.—Since writing the above I have been asked to state whether, in my arrangements for publishing, I employ a 'literary agent' or use a 'type-writer.' I do not. With regard to the first part of the query, I consider that authors, like other people, should learn how to manage their own affairs themselves, and that when they take a paid agent into their confidence, they make open confession of their business incapacity, and voluntarily elect to remain in foolish ignorance of the practical part of their profession. Secondly, I dislike type-writing, and prefer to make my own MS. distinctly legible. It takes no more time to write clearly than in spidery hieroglyphics, and a slovenly scribble is no proof of cleverness, but rather of carelessness and a tendency to 'scamp' work.