That I have named this very blog after Marie Corelli — and her “electric creed” in the novel A Romance of Two Worlds — speaks to a fact that I don’t really need to reveal: I am in love with Marie Corelli. The pleasure that reading her books brings me is one that can only be had through reading Corelli. But I will save my love-song for Corelli for another post (you’re welcome!).
Having just finished her novel The Sorrows of Satan (British, 1895) reminded me of my blog series, “The Devil is a Woman, but only Momentarily.” This is my fourth installment in the series.
The “sorrows” of Satan are many in this text, as the fallen angel takes the form of Lucio Ramanez and is bound to carry out a pact with God based on an accusation that he uttered in haste. To the best of his ability, he must tempt man to surrender his soul, all the while longing to redeem himself in God’s eyes. He tempts Geoffrey Tempest, who is an idealistic writer on the verge of starvation, with five million dollars (which he accepts). All the while that Ramanez pushes Tempest toward more sin, he secretly wishes (and at one point even provokes) Tempest to reject his services. When man rejects his offers Satan is closer to regaining his seat in heaven: a position which he desires very much — so much so that Ramanez turns to brooding and consistently iterates his feelings: “Judge then, how, under the peculiar circumstances of his doom, this ‘Lucifer, Son of the Morning,’ Satan, or whatever else he is called, must hate Humanity!”
Rimanez may hate humanity very much for its constant indulgence in sin but his most violent feelings are directed explicitly toward a certain kind of woman: the “New Woman,” like Sybil — the wealthy and “soulless” lady who marries Tempest in order to get closer to her love interest, Ramanez. When Ramanez visits the Tempests after their marriage Sybil throws herself, shamelessly, on his person, begging for erotic love. He, in turn, is repulsed: “I hate you, and all such women as you! For you corrupt the world — you turn good to evil — you deepen folly into crime — with the seduction of your nude limbs and lying eyes, you make fools, cowards and beasts of men!” He tells Tempest, earlier, about his deep anthropomorphic feelings toward women: “But do not forget why I hate them! It is because they have all the world’s possibilities of good in their hands, and the majority of them deliberately turn these possibilities to evil.”
In this way, clearly, Corelli polarizes Satan with woman. Ramanez detests “New” women who have been brought up on “French” literature and have given up their true calling, which is to guide men in moral practices. These new women are simply “the female of man [who] have no real soul save that which is a reflex of his, and being destitute in logic, she is incapable of forming a correct opinion on any subject.”
Yet, Ramanez himself is very womanly — even “New-” womanly. In the first place, Ramanez’s defining characteristic is his attractiveness in Tempest’s eyes. This is a point that Corelli never fails to repeat throughout the novel. When Tempest first encounters Satan, he has “a strong and singular attraction” to this “good-looking” man with his “wonderful eyes,” “handsome presence,” “extraordinary good looks,” and “admirable build.” Tempest goes so far as to compare his wife’s — Sybil’s — beauty to Ramanez’s. In a word, Tempest finds Ramanez HOT (pun, yes?).
Ramanez, additionally, constantly fingers the “glittering beetle body” of what readers are supposed to understand is the soul of a sinful Egyptian woman. Later, when Tempest and Ramanez visit Egypt, Corelli suggests that this grotesque bug is the soul of Sybil, whose mummy is excavated. Surprisingly, Sybil has been right all along. She doesn’t seem to have a soul. That soul seems to be the “sprite” pet of Ramanez. He even refers to “the radiant bat-shaped thing” as “an Egyptian female mummy,” with a “vampire soul” (he later tells Sybil that her “vampire soul” called to him), and is careful to identify it as “an evil creature.”
Nevertheless, he clings to her as she — the insect — clings to him. They seem to have a kind of equal relationship.
Moreover, Ramanez admits time and again that he — granted, against his will — has the agenda of doing the precise thing that he accuses the new woman of doing: corrupting and misguiding men. He and Sybil are doing identical work.
In this way, the devil is a woman.
But then, there is one thing — and one thing only — that differentiates Ramanez from Sybil. His sorrow.
Perhaps nineteenth-century literature hasn’t known such a pitiful Satan since Byron and Lamb. Corelli gives a new meaning to the Satanic hero: he is so sad. The scene that reveals the depth of his sadness is when his services are rejected by the ephemeral and morally-superior Mavis Clare who is, not surprisingly for Corelli, a popular yet critically-bashed writer of fiction. He tempts her. She rejects him. Then, he gets down on one knee before her and beseeches her to pray for his soul. His redemption is possible, here, through the sympathy of a pure woman.
Reading The Sorrows of Satan I felt bad for Ramanez. But then, too, Corelli does not want me to only feel bad for Satan; she wants me to extend my sympathies to Sybil as well — because the predicaments of Satan and the New Woman are not dissimilar.
After she is rejected by Ramanez, Sybil decides to poison herself and write down her experience of death, as she dies. Her reflection reveals one very clear truth: that Sybil is not ashamed of her actions and that she is, despite her sins, an extremely truthful woman. For example, when Tempest courts her she tells him blatantly that she is evil and damaged and will not be the kind of woman that he needs. When Tempest catches her throwing herself at Satan she is forthcoming about her desire. She even goes so far as to tell Tempest on their wedding day that she will tell him who she loves very shortly (even though it isn’t him). All and all, Sybil has the presence of mind and sharp critical awareness enough to articulate herself as a product of society. Corelli seems to want readers to pity her to some extent, especially since she earns the pity, eventually, of both Mavis Clare and Tempest: the novel’s obvious heroes.
Yet, Satan is also heroic — at least in the way that Sybil is heroic. Satan, Sybil, and women in general are pawns in the same game, apparently. For Corelli, at least, these figures are terrible but they are also products of male desire. The real demonization is of men and, ironically, the devil somehow comes out clean.