n her essay "Of Writers in Grooves" in The Silver Domino (1893), Corelli, hiding behind the persona of the Silver Domino, establishes the category of writers in "grooves" who, once they have found one, stay comfortably in one literary niche and with one literary style. In contrast to these stands "the true Protean type of genius, capable of touching every string on the literary harp he holds" (143). Condemning a number of her male colleagues as "groovy" and unoriginal writers — including William Black, W. E. Norris, F. C. Philips, William Clark Russell, and also Marion Crawford, George Meredith, Hall Caine, and Bret Harte — Corelli moves on to attack her female colleagues.
Condemning the lack of originality in Mary Braddon ("her canvas is always prepared in the same manner, and the same familiar figures stand out upon it in only slightly altered attitudes", 153), Mrs Humphry Ward ("religious 'groove'", 152), Ouida ("no difference in style", 154), Rhoda Broughton ("always the same sort of distressing hitch in the love-business", 155), Mrs Henry Wood ("wonderfully groovy", 158), the Silver Domino eventually turns to herself, Marie Corelli. Critics, writes the Silver Domino, generally praise "groovy" and predictable authors, but hate originality.
That is why they invariably "go" for one of our newest inflictions, Marie Corelli, of whom it may be truly said that she has written no two books alike, either in plot or style; and the grave Spectator on one occasion forgot itself so far as to say that her romance entitled "Ardath" had actually beaten Beckford's renowned "Vathek" out of the field. But all the same, I, personally speaking, find her a distinctly exasperating writer, who is neither here, there, nor anywhere a "will-o'-the-wisp" sort of thing, of whom it is devoutly to be wished that she would settle into a "groove," as she would be less of a trail to the (in her case) always savage reviewer. Nothing is more irritating to a critic than to have to chronicle the reckless flights of this young woman's unbridled and fantastic imagination. She tells us about heaven and hell as if she had been to them both, and had rather enjoyed her experience. Valiant attempts to "quash" her have been made, but apparently in vain, and most of my brethren in the critical faculty consider her a positive infliction. Why does she not take the advice tendered her by the World, and other sensible journals, and retire altogether from literature? I am sure she would be much happier "picking geranium leaves" à la Becky Sharp [sic], with a husband and two thousand a-year. As it is, her very name is, to the men of the press, what a red rag is to a bull. They are down upon it instantly with a fury that is almost laughable in its violence. But I suppose she is like the rest of her sex — obstinate, and that she will hold on her wild career, regardless of censure. Only, as I say, I wish she would elect a "groove" to run in, for I, among many others, shall be relieved as well as delighted when we are all quite certain beyond a doubt as to what sort of book we are to expect from her. At present she is a mere vexation to any well-ordered mind. [156-158]
By means of a polemical discussion of her rivals in popularity, Corelli distances herself from these female authors and claims to be original all the time. Evidently, the surface criticism is a rhetorical strategy to celebrate originality as a positive quality. The "will-o'-the-wisp" quality manifests the originality of the genius and must be an essential quality of every author, and the unbridled imagination of a writer guarantees the variety of the stories.
Marie Corelli. "Of Writers in Grooves". The Silver Domino, or Side Whispers, Social and Literary. 12th ed. With Author's Note to this Issue. London: Lamley, 1893. 137-162.
Last modified 26 April 2005