The Sorrows of Satan By Marie Corelli
A Book Review
By Alexander Ostroff
London, 1895, and struggling writer Geoffrey Tempest is at the end of his rope. Things change with the arrival of three letters. The first contains a loan of 50 pounds from a buddy in Australia. The second letter is from a law firm informing Tempest that a distant relative left him five million pounds. The third is from Prince Lucio Rimanez, who claims to be a friend of a friend. Rimanez will soon be in London and wants to help Tempest get his book published. Before he can even catch his breath, someone knocks on the door.
Tempest opens the door and finds himself confronted by the towering, majestic figure of Prince Lucio Rimanez. Talk about good timing. He offers Tempest a noble hand and slight bow. Tempest naively invites him into his arctic flat, and so begins a rather unusual friendship.
Rimanez is something of a cross between Peter the Great, Carl Jung, and Jay Gatsby. Sometimes he’s a sarcastic, judgmental chatterbox prone to giving Tempest lengthy sermons on the depravity of mankind. Such cynical ruminations would be tiring were it not for their eerie foresight. It was as if author Marie Corelli was a soothsayer describing 21st-century society. Other times Rimanez is a shadowy, Hannibal Lecter-esqe sphinx.
After collecting his money, Tempest purchases a huge mansion. Rimanez introduces him to the most powerful families in London, and grooms him in the ways of the upper class. Naturally, publishing is no longer an issue. Same publishers who showed Tempest their nose hairs now have a change of heart; after Tempest pulls out his gilded checkbook.
Tempest meets the beautiful Lady Sibyl, daughter of a powerful aristocrat. She’s a total bitch and coma-inducing dullard, and all her friends are narrow-minded philistines. Despite such trivial inadequacies, Tempest falls in love, and they get married. Apparently Tempest cannot see that something is off. He comfortably settles into a life of 12-course meals, free-flowing booze, and endless parties.
Tempest discovers that life as an upper-class gentleman is ripe with bizarre melodrama. The petty power struggles, love triangles, and ubiquitous gossip would cause any intelligent man to commit Seppuku. Once full of vibrant inquisitiveness, Tempest accepts intellectual apathy as his default mode, and parties on. Days flow into nights, and his previously athletic physique grows bloated and slothful. Bookstores line their shelves with his novel. Glowing reviews proclaim Tempest a literary genius. None of this brings him any professional satisfaction. Tempest is more depressed now than when he was clawing the desk in his tiny apartment. He desperately tries to write again, but nothing of worth takes shape. It’s no help that Sibyl is the exact opposite of a muse—and there’s nothing Rimanez can do to help. Through gritted teeth, Rimanez reluctantly explains to Tempest that creativity and inspiration come from God.
Tempest finds out that one of his neighbors is Mavis Clare, a self-made best-selling author of Christian novels. She easily forgives Tempest for the scathing reviews he once wrote about her work. Kind, spiritual, and refreshingly intelligent, Mavis is truly a breath of fresh air. All her good qualities, however, cannot extinguish the seething envy burning inside Tempest. It’s completely obvious that Corelli based Mavis on herself. Even their initials are the same.
Things become strange when Mavis meets Rimanez. Through a series of fascinating interactions, she becomes the first person to uncover his true identity. This sets into motion a chain reaction of events. We learn that Rimanez is lonely and bored. His job has become so easy that it no longer offers him much of a challenge. Still, retirement is not an option. Business is just too damn good!
Tempest finally realizes what he got himself into. He more or less tells Rimanez to, ahem, go to hell. Before long, Tempest loses his entire fortune, and his life falls apart. He ends up in the middle of the ocean on Rimanez’s yacht, about to commit suicide. In his darkest hour, Tempest finds the strength to pray to God, and as a result, avoids a watery grave. He returns to the conditions of his previous life, except now he’s a new man; reborn and redeemed of all his sins.
Overall, Correlli is heavy handed with the social and religious themes that underlie the story. Nevertheless, she manages to wash over these flaws by delivering a stunningly imaginative, entertaining, and thought-provoking tale. What’s even more interesting than the book is Corelli herself. More than a century before J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, Corelli was the first female superstar author; outselling all of her popular contemporary writers combined.
What may seem like serendipity was in fact a pioneering literary operation by an extremely cunning lady.
Back then, biblical themes were etched into the minds of the common populace. This was the Victorian Age. Society was–at least on the outside–extremely reserved about sex and sexuality. Corelli played on all of this. Moreover, she shrewdly weaved New Age mysticism into her books. Such a mash-up was unthinkable at the time, yet she did it in a way that fascinated both her staunch Christian readers and the rapidly growing New Age movement. Corelli tirelessly lambasted the upper class in her books. Money was considered a dark force that could, given the chance, muddy up the pure souls of working-class, God-fearing citizens.
Her readership was cultish, to put it mildly. Corelli never had to worry about anyone discovering that in real life she had nothing in common with her books. She lived with a female companion, Bertha Vynera, for more than 40 years, and left Vynera her entire estate. Rumors began to fly that she was a lesbian. Her fans felt these rumors were fabricated by envious writers and their publishers. In their minds, it was impossible for such an angelic Christian writer to be a homosexual. Corelli never confirmed or denied anything. In fact, she and Vynera often attended social events together. This was extraordinarily brave for 19th-century Europe.
Those who accused Corelli of being a socialist were probably ecstatic to learn that she was extremely wealthy, and all of it self made. Corelli was an aggressive businesswoman who would ram her fist down the throats of publishers and bookstores for every penny of royalties owed to her. As a result, she enjoyed the best of everything, lived in a palatial estate, and hobnobbed with the elite of society. Hypocritical and disingenuous? Well, a writer is under no obligation to live by the doctrines of her fiction.
Corelli tailored her stories to the specific psychology and mindset of the commoner. This worked because 19th-century society was far less complicated. Today such tactics wouldn’t work, at least not in the way Corelli applied them. Our society is indecipherably mercurial. There are billions of opinions on billions of subjects, and both the subjects and opinions change a billion times. This is one of the reasons why marketing has become so frighteningly invasive. But I digress. What does this mean for the modern writer? It means don’t think about any of this bullshit and tell the stories you want tell.
You can purchase this novel at Amazon Books.