Untold lives blog

113 posts categorized "Leisure"

03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

On 3 February 1908 the Swansea Empire was offering a varied bill of entertainment – music, magic, comedy, ventriloquism, the American Bioscope, and La Freya ‘The Parisian Beauty, in a Novel Speciality’.

Theatre bill for Swansea February 1908South Wales Daily Post 3 February 1908 British Newspaper Archive

 

La Freya was a French vaudeville performer whose act consisted of ‘artistic visions and superb poses’.  She appeared at theatres the length and breadth of Britain between the years 1907 and 1915.  In 1909 she was on the bill at the Euston Theatre of Varieties which stood opposite St Pancras Station, a stone’s throw from the British Library’s present site.  

 
 
Euston Theatre of VarietiesEuston Theatre of Varieties from The Era 16 June 1900 British Newspaper Archive 

Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties April 1909Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties from Music Hall And Theatre Review 2 April 1909

Taking the stage, La Freya stood on a podium in front of a black velvet curtain, dressed in a thin white silk body suit.  Her body was used as a screen.  She adopted a variety of poses as her husband projected lantern slides he had painted to ‘clothe’ her.  The ‘Decors Lumineux of Mr La Freya’ transformed her into visions such as a fairy, a butterfly, a mermaid, a gondolier, and a Scottish Highlander in full warpaint. 
  Full-length portrait photograph of La Freya

Portrait photograph of La Freya by Antoni Esplugas - Government of Catalonia, National Archive of Catalonia courtesy of  Europeana

La Freya and her husband had developed the act when they were working at the Folies Bergère in Paris.  The act lasted for ten minutes and the strain of standing still made La Freya sick when she first performed it.  She overcame this, although the lights continued to hurt her eyes.

The couple went to England intending to stay for just one season but ended up staying for several years, apparently because their management would not let them leave.  However La Freya and her husband did travel abroad for short seasons.  For example, from September to December 1910 they were in the United States, captivating audiences in New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 via findmypast Copyright: 'Fair Use' allowed (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

They sailed to South Africa in June 1911 with other performers to fulfil engagements with Sydney Hyman at the Empire in Johannesburg.  By September La Freya was back on the London stage.

In June 1912 ‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were passengers on SS Medina to Australia.  They appeared in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane and the act was well-received.  A special tableau was created – the personification of Australia with Sydney Town Hall in the background.

The Australian press was keen to interview the couple.  La Freya spoke to journalists in English with her husband acting as interpreter.  She came from the south of France and her husband, identified as Monsieur La Mort, from Paris.  The Sydney Sunday Times  published a special illustrated feature on La Freya’s fitness regime, with advice on how to achieve a corsetless figure through ten or fifteen minutes’ exercise every day.

‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were bound by contracts for two more years and were aiming to make as much money as possible.  Then they planned to retire whilst La Freya was still a big name in vaudeville.  She wanted to concentrate on setting up a house and garden in the south of France, whilst her husband intended to shoot and fish.

It seems that La Freya disappears from the newspapers in early 1915.  So did she retire to lead a quiet life far away from the public gaze?  Can anyone tell me what happened to ‘the most perfectly formed woman in the universe’?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
Trove newspapers from Australia
Anita Callaway, Visual ephemera – Theatrical art in nineteenth-century Australia (2000)

 

15 January 2020

Tragic ice accident in Regent’s Park

On 15 January 1867 a shocking accident took place in Regent’s Park London.  Forty people died when the ice gave way as they were skating and sliding on the frozen lake. 

Peolpe amusing themselves on the ice at Regent's Park lakeOn the ice at Regent's Park lake from A voice from the ice in Regent’s Park – a true tale (1871)  Noc

Hundreds were amusing themselves. Nineteen icemen employed by the Royal Humane Society were in attendance as lifeguards and they had issued warnings about the dangerous conditions.  Suddenly a large area of ice disintegrated and great numbers of people were plunged into the icy water. 

Great numbers of people plunged into the icy water as the ice disintegratedGreat numbers of people plunged into the icy water from A voice from the ice in Regent’s Park – a true tale (1871)  Noc

People struggling in the icy water of Regent's Park lakePeople struggling in the icy water - from The Illustrated Police News 26 January 1867 British Newspaper Archive

The icemen ran to help with their rescue boats and apparatus but their efforts were dwarfed by the scale of the disaster.   Those who managed to keep afloat were brought to shore but many drowned in the deep water, some trapped under pieces of ice.  Survivors were treated at Marylebone Infirmary and St Mary’s Hospital Paddington.

Dragging and diving for dead bodies in Regent's Park lake Dragging and diving for dead bodies in Regent's Park lake - from The Illustrated Police News 26 January 1867 British Newspaper Archive

Recovery of the bodies took several days. They were taken to Marylebone Workhouse, and relatives and friends attended to make formal identification.  All the deceased were male and mostly aged in their teens and twenties.

Identifcation of the bodies at Marylebone Workhouse Identifcation of the bodies at Marylebone Workhouse - from The Illustrated Police News 26 January 1867 British Newspaper Archive

The victims came from a variety of backgrounds, not all from London.  They included several schoolboys and students, clerks, a warehouseman, a fruit seller, an organ pipe maker and an organ builder, a costermonger, a silk merchant, a coach-maker and a coachman, an upholsterer, a butler, a cabinet-maker, a gentleman, a gasfitter, and a paperhanger. The youngest to die was nine-year-old Charles Jukes, the son of a Marylebone carpenter living close to the park. 

Eleven-year-old John Broadbridge also came from Marylebone. His father Joseph was a bricklayer.  By a strange quirk of fate, Joseph was involved in an accident as a teenager on the frozen lake in Regent’s Park in December 1840.  He and two local men became immersed in the icy water of the lake.  Iceman Charles Davis went to assist them with his boat, but was jerked into the water when all three grabbed hold of it.  However Davis managed to get them into the boat and was himself helped out by another iceman with a ladder. 

Robert Edwin Scott was aged 29, a clerk and a lieutenant in the Middlesex Rifle Volunteers.   He lived in Haverstock Hill London with his wife Julia Ann.  Four months after Robert died at Regent’s Park, Julia gave birth to a daughter.  Sadly their baby died at the age of just three months. 

The inquest jury’s verdict was that the accident was caused by overcrowding on the ice which was dangerous from brittleness and partial thaw.  The jury recommended that the police or another authority should be given powers to prevent the public from venturing onto unsound ice as the evidence had demonstrated that notices and verbal warnings were not heeded.  It also urged the Government to reduce the depth of water in the lake as already done at St James’s Park.

The Royal Humane Society made eighteen awards to those involved in the rescue.  Staff of the Workhouse and Infirmary were given financial rewards by the Board of Guardians. 

The water depth in Regent’s Park lake was reduced from twelve feet.  When the ice gave way in 1886, about 100 people sank into the water.  But this time no-one died because the water was only three or four feet deep.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Globe 17 December 1840 and 21 January 1867; The Illustrated Police News 19 and 26 January 1867
Christian Book Society, A voice from the ice in Regent’s Park – a true tale (1871)
Wendy Neal, With disastrous consequences: London disasters 1830-1917  (1992)

 

23 December 2019

A Christmas entertainment

I was browsing the British Library catalogue for appropriate collection items to share on the blog over Christmas.  When I came across a play called The Christmas Ordinary published in 1682, I decided to investigate.

Title Page of The Christmas OrdinaryTitle page of The Christmas Ordinary (London, 1682) Noc

Imagine my delight when I saw that the first character listed was my namesake, a Mr Make-Peace.  And as I have a son named Phil, I was thrilled to discover that Mr Make-Peace has an astronomer son called Astrophil. 

Here is the full list of the play’s characters:
‘Dramatis Personae
Mr. Make-Peace, A Countrey-Justice
Astrophil, An Astronomer, his Son
Humphry, The Justice’s Man
Drink-Fight, A Jovial Souldier
Austin, An Hermit
Shab-Quack, A poor Chyrurgeon
Roger, An Apprentice to Shab-Quack
Win-all, An Host of an Ordinary’.

Well, I was hooked!  What sort of story could connect a justice of the peace, an astronomer, a jovial soldier, a hermit, a poor surgeon and the host of an ordinary (an inn).

This is the synopsis of the plot:

‘Roger escaping from his Master Shab-Quack, at Christmas Time, meets with Drink-fight, and joyns with him in a Knot of Merriment.  They also inveigle the Hermit and Astrophil.  Mr. Make-peace being pensive at his Son’s Departure, sends Humphry to enquire him out, who, in the Disguise of a Traveller, finds them frolicking at an Ordinary; who insinuates himself into their Mirth.  Afterwards, with false Dice, cheats them, and escapes.  They afterwards, wrangling about the Reckoning, beat their Host, who summons them all before the Justice, and runs to Shab-Quack for Cure.  Mr. Make-peace, perceiving his Son Astrophil amongst them, joyfully entertains him and the rest. Shab-Quack pardons his Servant’s Christmas Merriment, and the Hermit, in a jolly Humor, is bound Apprentice to the Host’.

What fun! 

Drunken frolics of 17th-century menDrunken frolics of 17th-century men from John Ashton, Humour, Wit, & Satire of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1883) Shelfmark 11621.h.7. BL flickr  Noc

I instinctively focused upon Mr Make-Peace’s devotion to his son.

‘O this Astrophil doth so Banquet me with joy, that I am almost cloy’d with my Felicity, and I grow hoarse in Gratulatory Praises.’

‘Not yet return’d my Son? Then let me weep my Body dry to Dust, and make this Chair my Coffin.’

And when Astrophil returns home safely –
‘Methinks there is a young Spring in all my Limbs, my Blood trips Coranto’s in my capering Veins… Come, follow me all, and I will satisfie you with a pleurisy of Delights’.

And so I wish you all a Happy Christmas, cloyed with felicity and a pleurisy of delights.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

13 August 2019

Fourth ‘Queen’s Own’ Hussars in India

A small but unusual collection in the India Office Private Papers is a folder of ephemera of the British Army cavalry regiment, the Fourth Queen's Own Hussars.  The items in the folder are mostly related to the Regiment’s time overseas in the 1870s, and gives a fascinating glimpse into activities and entertainments when not on combat duties.

Ephemera collectionMss Eur C610 Noc

Raised in 1685 as Berkeley’s Dragoons as a consequence of the rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth, the Regiment would serve in many notable military actions, including Wellington’s Peninsula Campaign.  Renamed the Fourth Queen's Own Light Dragoons, the Regiment would spend 19 years in India between 1822 and 1841, and see action at the Battle of Ghazni during the First Anglo-Afghan war. 

Group of officers of Fourth Queens Own HussarsOfficers of the 4th (The Queen's Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons, 1855.  Photograph by Roger Fenton (1819-1869), Crimean War, 1855 NAM. 1964-12-151-6-35

The Regiment also served with distinction during the Crimea War, and was part of one of the most famous events in British military history, the charge of the Light Brigade.  The Fourth Light Dragoons were in the second line of the charge on 25 October 1854 against the Russian forces at Balaclava.  Of the 12 officers, 118 men and 118 horses of the Fourth Light Dragoons, 4 officers, 54 men and 80 horses were killed, wounded or missing at the end of the charge.  One of the men of the Regiment, Private Samuel Parkes was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the charge.  The collection of ephemera contains a nominal roll of the officers and men of the Regiment who embarked on 17 July 1854, and Private Parkes is listed on page 7.  Parkes survived the charge and was captured by the Russians, spending a year as a POW. He was awarded his VC in 1857, and left the Regiment in December of that year.

Front cover of nominal roll of Fourth ‘Queen’s Own’ Hussars

Mss Eur C610 Noc

In 1867, the Regiment embarked on its second tour of duty in India.  Some of the most interesting pieces of ephemera in the collection from this period are programmes for ‘Evening Readings’ which the Regiment put on.  The programme for the evening readings for 26 February 1874, included the songs ‘They have laid her in her little bed’ sung by Private Fox and ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’ sung by Corporal Walmsley.  Private Elliot gave a rendition of the comic song ‘Betsy Waring’. 

Front cover of programme for Evening Readings
Mss Eur C610 Noc

Evening readings programme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another occasion, an ‘Assault of Arms’ was staged displaying athletic prowess (dumb bell exercises, parallel bar) and combat skills (fencing, sword v bayonet, ancient combat), concluding with a boxing melée involving the whole company.

List of events for Assault of armsMss Eur C610 Noc

The Regiment left India on H.M. Indian troop ship Serapis on 6 December 1878 for the voyage back to England.  The collection includes the ship’s menu for Christmas dinner. 

Christmas dinner menuMss Eur C610 Noc

This included a soup course (mock turtle), starter of jugged hare, mutton cutlets or fricassee chicken, main course of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, roast mutton and red currant jelly, boiled turkey and oyster sauce, or roast goose and apple sauce, and finishing with plum pudding, mince pies and cherry tart.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Printed ephemera of the 4th Light Dragoons in India, including `Nominal Roll of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Men,' programmes for evening readings and other entertainments, 1869-1878 [Reference: Mss Eur C610]
A Short History of the IV. Queen's Own Hussars, by H. G. Watkin, continued by T. W. Pragnell., (Meerut, 1923) [Reference: 8823.e.46.]
A Short History of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, by Major T. J. Edwards (Canterbury: Gibbs & Sons, 1935) [Reference: 8820.df.30.]
4th Hussar. The story of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, 1685-1958, by David Scott Daniell, etc. [With plates and maps.] (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1959) [Reference: 8840.bbb.7.]

Exploits of the Queens Own Light Dragoons

 

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Watercolour of Indian landscapes, possibly by MermanjanWatercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Watercolour of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Caricatures of English Victorians in India possibly by Thomas MaughanCaricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection

 

16 May 2019

Celebrating King Edward VIII’s Birthday at the Bahrain Political Agency

On 23 June 1936 the Bahrain Political Agency held an official ceremony in celebration of King Edward VIII’s birthday. Announcing it as an official holiday, the Agency made a series of arrangements to mark the occasion. It is clear that the Agency was keen to make the occasion as inclusive and organised as it could be. Arabic invitation cards were ordered from the Times Press Limited at Baghdad and Basra.

Letter from the Times Press Limited about order for Arabic invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 30

Arabic document connected to order for invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 32

The Agency sent personal invitations to members of the Bahrain Government including Shaikhs ‘Abdullah bin ‘Isa and Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Personal invitation to member of the Bahrain Government IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 37

Messrs Jashanmal (now Jashanmal Department Stores, Bahrain) supplied the Agency with refreshments including Nice biscuits, sherbet, chocolate, crystallised cherries, and Mackintosh toffees. Whereas Messrs Ashraf Brothers (now Ashrafs W.L.L.) supplied coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.

Order to Messrs Jashanmal for refreshments IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 43 
 

Order to Messrs Ashraf Brothers for coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 44

To ensure everyone’s loyalty to the British Crown, the Agency invited representatives of various ethnic and religious communities living in Bahrain including Arabs, Persians, Hindu and Jewish. Indeed this could also display a British attempt to show an inclusive policy towards everyone in Bahrain.

List of names of people delivering speechesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 60

A list of names was circulated among the invitees. In turn, each invitee left a note near his name either to confirm or apologise. In some cases, certain individuals sent letters of apology, like the one sent by Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Qusaibi.

List of names circulated among the inviteesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 48

Letter of apology from Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-QusaibiIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 45

On the day, the Agency received its special guests by placing a guard of honour to wait for them at the door. After serving coffee and other refreshments, a number of invitees read out their letters of congratulation. The assistants of the heads of the Manama and Muharraq Municipalities read out the letters on behalf of their municipalities.

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 54

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 55

Others read out their letters on behalf of their companies or communities. These include Mullah Hasan bin al-Shaikh al-Majed, representing the Arab Bahrainis; Ghanshamdas Dhamanmal Isardas, representing the Hindu; and Mir Daoud Rouben, representing the Jewish community in Bahrain.
 

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 58

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 59

Further, both Haji Abdun Nabi Bushehri, representing the Iranian Shi‘a community; and Haji Muhammad Tayeb Khunji, representing the Iranian Sunni community read out their tabriknameh [congratulation letters] in Persian.

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 56

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 57

The language used in these letters reflected the purpose of the invitation in the first place. The letters were in praise of the British Empire, and all wishing King Edward VIII to live long and be prosperous. The similarity of their wordings display nothing but loyalty to the British Crown. Ironically, only six months after the occasion, Edward VIII abdicated on 11 December 1936 and soon his loyalty to the British Crown became a matter of dispute among many.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading
IOR/R/15/2/1663 'File 20/1- Vol: III Ceremonial and Celebrations: New Year's and King's Birthday's Celebrations.'
Edward VIII

01 April 2019

April Fool’s Day at the zoo

The first of April was not a day that the staff of zoos around Britain used to look forward to with any pleasure.  A popular April Fool’s Day trick was to leave a note for a colleague in an office or factory giving the telephone number of the local zoo with the instruction to ask for one of these people -

Mr C Lyon
Mr P Cock
Mr G Raff
Miss Ella Fant
Mr Wolf.

Sea lionSea Lion via Clipart

So many calls were made to Dudley Zoo on the morning of 1 April 1965 that it took three members of the office staff to cope.  The jammed switchboard was closed down at 10.45 until 14.00. One unwitting caller was connected when they asked for Mr Mole.   They were put through to Mr Moule in the catering department.

London Zoo became tired of the joke.  At one time staff would answer dozens of requests to speak to Mr Lyon by repeating wearily: ‘This is the Zoological Society.  All our lions are in cages and it is April 1 today’.  The  Primrose telephone exchange then began to help by asking questions to discover whether the call was bona fide before putting it through to the Zoo. 
 
In 1866 London Zoo was the victim of an April Fool hoax when 300 people arrived with fake tickets, lured by a bargain price and the promise of seeing a parade of lions, tigers, bears and leopards.  You can read the full story here.

Sunderland Daily Echo wrote in 1932: ‘April first is the hoaxer’s holiday when all the old “chestnuts” can be tried out again with impunity’.  So beware any notes left for you this morning and double check before you make any phone calls! 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive: for example Daily Herald 1 April 1930; Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 1 April 1932; Birmingham Daily Post 2 April 1965.

 

19 March 2019

Marie Corelli: Superstar Author of the Victorian Era

Of all the authors of the Victorian era, Marie Corelli (1855-1924) is not easily recalled, names such as Tennyson, Dickens, the Brontës and Mary Shelley are more likely to come to mind.  She has slipped into obscurity over the years.  Yet intriguingly, Corelli was one of the most popular authors of her time.  She was a bestselling author and an individual whose life contained many of the hallmarks of contemporary celebrity: fame, fortune and famous friends.

Postcard depicting popular Victorian author Marie Corelli Postcard depicting popular Victorian author Marie Corelli Wikimedia Commons

Evidence of the scale of her popularity is illustrated in the British Library’s Manuscript Collections.  There are a number of her publishing agreements in the archive of Marie Corelli’s publisher, Richard Bentley (Add MS 46560-46682).  One of these is the publishing agreement for Corelli’s book Wormwood (published only a few years into her literary career) which shows that she was offered a total of £800 for this title.  In today’s money this would be an advance of over £65,000, quite a lot of money for any author.  Such a sum shows just how much confidence Bentley had in Corelli.  He evidently believed that the investment would be rewarded.

Publishing agreement for Corelli’s book WormwoodAdd MS 46623, f.327

Corelli's novels combined a writing style that was melodramatic and florid.  Her interest in mysticism and spiritualism could lead to her characters expressing bizarre abilities to dematerialise and time-travel.  On top of this she had a tendency to moralise and bemoan contemporary society.  This made her novels rather liable to ridicule by critics.  However it does not seem to have affected her sales; according to the Bentley’s accounts, Corelli made over £900 in royalties alone in 1893, and £1000 in 1894.

Royalty statement for Marie CorelliAdd MS 46562, f.15

Aside from considerable sales, the stardom of Corelli is further illustrated by a number of unlikely, but influential fans, one being Oscar Wilde who stated that she told of ‘marvellous things in a marvellous way’.  She was also friends with Ellen Terry, the leading Shakespearean actress.  Another fan was the Prime Minister, William Gladstone.  Gladstone was such a fan that he popped around unannounced to meet Corelli.  To her horror, she was out at the time and was dreadfully disappointed to have missed one of the ‘profound thinkers and sage of the century’.

Marie Corelli's letter to William GladstoneAdd MS 44507, f.3

Corelli’s extroverted personality and her fame meant she was scrutinized more closely than most.  She often cut a contradictory figure.   She railed against marriage in her article 'The Modern Marriage Market', feeling that women too often were sold and traded like property, and yet she was an avid anti-suffragette.  She appealed for charity on behalf of hospitals during the First World War, but was convicted of hoarding food against regulation.  She could be fleeting with friends, but she lived solely with one woman, Bertha Vyver, for 40 years, dedicating her books to her and leaving her everything in her will.

The dedication to Bertha in Thelma, 1888The dedication to Bertha in Thelma, 1888

A century after her death, Marie Corelli’s work is largely forgotten.  Her florid style and sentimentality became unfashionable as a new generation of modernist writers took hold of the literary lime-light.  For most of her lifetime, however, Corelli’s writing brought her great success, so much so that that most of her fellow Victorians would have known her name.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Bentley Papers, Add MS 46560-46682, British Library
Bigland, E. Marie Corelli: The Woman and the Legend, (London: Jarrolds Publishers, 1953)
Corelli, M and Others. The Modern Marriage Market, (London : Hutchinson & Co, 1898)
Corelli, M. Thelma: A New Edition, (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1888)
The National Archives, Currency Converter

 

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