decorated initial 'R'udyard Kipling's rapid rise in the literary scene and his popularity both with the press and society at large aroused Corelli's envy. Her fiction might have been hailed by a hitherto unprecedented number of readers, but it was forever mocked by the press as second-rate writing, and condemned for its populist themes and its sensationalism. Her virulent attacks on Kipling, the new "baby" in the literary scene, in the essay "To a Mighty Genius", must therefore be read as an expression of Corelli's anger that this poet succeeded both with the critics and the reader.

Responding to congratulatory reviews in Blackwood's Magazine and The Daily Telegraph on Kipling's greatness and genius, Corelli (masked as the Silver Domino) tries to dismiss the hysteria Kipling has created: "All this, an' so please you, on two or three volumes of small magazine stories and rhymed doggerel!" (271) The reviewers praise his minute observations on contemporary life and the profundity of his meditations as befitting the modern sensibility, but Corelli's response is sarcastic.

And so I have sold my set of Waverley novels (the real Abbotsford edition); I have put my Shakespeare on an almost unreachable top shelf (I only keep him for reference); I have sent my Dickens volumes to a hospital, and my Thackeray to a "home for incurables." I shall not want these things any more. The only natural reflex of life as it is lived nowadays is to be found in the works of Rudyard; on Rudyard I mentally feed and thrive. To Kip I cling as the drowning sailor to a rope; all difficulties and perplexities in Art, Literature, Science, Politics, Manners and Morals vanish at the touch of his mighty pen - he is the one, the only Kip; — the crowning splendour of our time. [274]

Quoting a number of enthusiastic review excerpts discussing Kipling's With the Main Guard, Soldiers Three, Plain Tales from the Hills, Watches of the Night, and The Arrest of Lieutenant Golightly, Corelli concludes: "The thing has been over-done. You have had more friends than are good for you; a few stanch foes would have brought you much more benefit in the long run." (282) Too much critical acclaim in a writer's lifetime, predicts the Silver Domino, guarantees a forgetting by posterity.

In the year of grace 1900 "Barrack-Room Ballads" will have gone the way of all "occasional verse," and not a line will remain in the memory of the public. The English people know perfectly well what poetry is, and no critic will ever persuade them that you [Kipling] can write it. At the same time no one wishes to deny your surface cleverness or your literary ability. You are on the same rank with Bret Harte, Frank Harris, Frank Stockton, Anstey, and a host of others, and there is no objection taken to your standing along with these; but there is objection, honest objection, made to your being forced higher aloft than you compeers, by means of a ridiculously exaggerated, aggressively ubiquitous "boom." [283]

And Corelli continues her rant:

Never was a name sent up sky-high like a rocket, but it did not fall plump down like a stick. And so, excellent Rudyard, beware! You are not "the greatest English author" by a long way. In weak moments I admit that the newspaper-gushers work me into a delirium-tremens of ecstasy about you, and, like my friend Frank Harris, my hand trembles and my voice takes on a rich growl as I quote "Fuzzy-wuz" and the "immortal" (alas!) "Tomlinson" — but in these fits I am not answerable for my words or actions. When I put away "Plain Tales" and "Life's Handicap," and forget all your press notices, I can think of you calmly and quite dispassionately, as one literary labourer among hundreds of others, who are all striving to put their little brick into the building of the Palace of Art, and I perceive that yours is a very small brick indeed! I fear it will scarcely be perceived in the wall twenty years hence. [284-285]

I consider you, then, to be talented little fellow with a good deal of newspaper-reporter "smartness" about you, and an immense idea of your own cleverness, an idea fostered to a regrettable extent by the overplus of "beans" which gentle Edmund Yates, among others, is sorry to have given you. You have some literary skill, and you use a rough brevity of language which passes for originality in these days of decadence, but you are shallow, Rudyard; as shallow as the small mountain brook that makes a great noise in the rapidity of its descent, but can neither turn a mill-wheel or bear a boat on its surface. [285]

The overall verdict of Kipling must then be that only Time will prove whether his tales will survive or whether, the Silver Domino adds rather hopefully, it will sweep Kipling away, "as remorselessly as it has swept away many other pampered and petted 'Press' baby out of the very shadow of remembrance" (285).

References

Marie Corelli. "To a Mighty Genius." The Silver Domino, or Side Whispers, Social and Literary. 12th ed. With Author's Note to this Issue. London: Lamley, 1893. 137-162.


Victorian Web Marie Corelli Rudyard Kipling

Last modified 26 April 2005