s a writer of weird fiction and fantasy, Marie Corelli not surprisingly had little affection for realism as a literary mode. Even though she sets some of her novels in society and pays a good deal of attention to matters that might seem made for realism, she rejects it, charging that realism, which pays close attentionn to social and material reality, inevitably corrupts the reader. In the thirty-third chapter of Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self (1895), Theos Alywn, her protagonist who is spiritually saved after a mystical experience, and his learned friend Villiers agree that realism is very bad indeed. Villiers, for example, charges that
France and England particularly are the prey of the Demon of Realism, — and all the writers who SHOULD use their pens to inspire and elevate the people, assist in degrading them. When their books are not obscene, they are blasphemous. Russia, too, joins in the cry of Realism! — Realism! ... Let us have the filth of the gutters, the scourgings of dustholes, the corruption of graves, the odors of malaria, the howlings of drunkards, the revellings of sensualists, . . the worst side of the world in its vilest aspect, which is the only REAL aspect of those who are voluntarily vile! Let us see to what a reeking depth of unutterable shameless brutality man can fall if he chooses — not as formerly, when it was shown to what glorious heights of noble supremacy he could rise! For in this age, the heights are called 'transcendental folly' — and the reeking depths are called Realism!"
The poet Alwyn agrees, adding that realism does not tell the truth because the "Commonplace" and the outer surface is not the true reality but merely a superficial, non-human set of facts.
"And yet what IS Realism really?" queried Alwyn. — "Does anybody know? ... It is supposed to be the actuality of everyday existence, without any touch of romance or pathos to soften its frequently hideous Commonplace; but the fact is, the Commonplace is not the Real. The highest flights of imagination in the human being fail to grasp the Reality of the splendors everywhere surrounding him, — and, viewed rightly, Realism would become Romance and Romance Realism. We see a ragged woman in the streets picking up scraps for her daily food, . . that is what we may call realistic, — but we are not looking at the ACTUAL woman, after all! We cannot see her Inner Self, or form any certain comprehension of the possible romance or tragedy which that Inner Self HAS experienced, or IS experiencing. We see the outer Appearance of the woman, but what of that? ... The REALISM of the suffering creature's hidden history lies beyond us, — so far beyond us that it is called ROMANCE, because it seems so impossible to fathom or understand." [Ardath, ch. 33]
Since the eighteenth century some critics had charged that presenting the material truth, particularly that about the relations between men and women, inevitably produced seductive, pornographic works, and they urged that writers should present only ideal relationships. Other critics responded that idealization produced falsity and what we today would call ideologically driven fictions. Assuming that Theos Alwyn, the regenerate poet, represents Corelli's beliefs at this point in the novel, we see that she takes a very old-fashioned, essentially neo-platonic position in relation to realism and the arts. In essence, she rejects much of the fiction by England's major novelists, including Eliot, Hardy, and Gissing.
Corelli, Marie. Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self. London: Bentley, 1889. [Project Gutenberg has a free electronic text online; search on Google.]
Last modified 29 August 2003