Marie Corelli's The Silver Domino
commentary by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
One of Marie Corelli's scarcer books is the anonymously published & elegantly bound The Silver Domino; or, side whispers, social & literary (Ln: Lamley, 1898). I'd sped-read it on microfilm years ago but as it was nonfiction I wasn't paying close attention. I found a strikingly beautiful copy of the book not long ago & sat down to enjoy it properly & soon discovered I had somehow missed, tucked among all these essays near the end, a ghost story! "Byron Loquitur" recounts the Silver Domino's meeting with the ghost of Lord Byron, who insists upon being addressed as "George" before launching into a posthumous poem. A minor whimsey, but even so, one more tale for the complete supernatural short stories of Marie Corelli.
When The Silver Domino was first issued with no indication of author, Marie expected it would make a big stir. She believed everyone would assume it to have been written by a young bohemian chap who knew everyone & everything & was such a tremendously observant though terribly biting fellow & "he" really would be just the fellow to meet & oh my oh gosh who could this brilliant darling wag be. Her plan was to wait for public eagerness to solve the mystery of the Domino's identity to reach its high apex & only then reveal to the world, Ta Da!, the tremendous wit was her own often-picked-on self who nay-sayers kept abusing as an unwitty over-reaching idol of scullerymaids & other ignorant sorts who adored supernatural romance.
Well, it actually is an effectively funny series of commentaries, with some morbid Yellow Nineties sentiments here & there that would've looked reasonably good if Wilde had swiped some of it as his own. At times extremely rude & unecessarily cruel but quite clever if you know the players, dotted with pretended friendships with people who in reality either didn't like her or had made her pettish with bad reviews of her books, including Andrew Lang who was insulted to find the book dedicated to his important self, with one or two critics casting aspersions on Lang for permitting such a rude book to carry that dedication.
I do think indeed if a man had written it, or at least someone with a less peasantish background, its author wouldn't've gotten in so much trouble for it. At worst "he" would've been dismissed as a lesser Bierce for writing such snotty opinions against everyone but himself. But many felt Marie erred in that she was abusive even to people who had liked & supported her. And though there were many odd guesses as to which disrespectful bohemian poet wrote it, the Silver Domino's virulent attacks on journalists several recognized immediately as Corelli in full fervor, as she was forever writing just that sort of vengeful commentary against the press.
She lost friends over this book, she attracted new enemies, & she embarrassed herself. She later denied having written much of it. She began claiming her brother Eric wrote the snottier parts (which is not very likely); then, since that wasn't credible, Eric having no talent for anything, then a third party had added to it, this having been the bitter editor of the journal Truth. As Marie's excuse-making progressed, she would have it believed she'd been too busy with other projects to check the final manuscript so had no idea what venomous stuff those two conspiritorial gents had been adding to her own much milder original. This was all hindsight & she would've been perfectly happy to have taken the credit had it gone over well. And fact is, every snottier bit can be traced back to some cause for Marie to feel just a tad vengeful.
Her detractors have made much of the impropriety of her having lampooned even her first publisher & greatest supporter Mr. Bentley, who had always been extremely kind to her & protective of her feelings. He never again would speak to her after this book, & there's no doubt but that Marie regretted that. But the fact is Bentley had been making huge amounts of money off Marie while giving her almost none of it. She had to winge & complain for every cent squeezed out of the miserly hornswoggling crook who relied on his vaunted gentlemanliness to milk his cash-cow for his own pleasures with very little to Marie's gain. Only when she went to Methuen did she become a wealthy woman with honest payment of royalties. Had she behaved in a properly appreciative manner, Bentley would've been "nice" to her even as he sent her to the poor house. As it stood, his feelings were hurt & he was as rigidly unforgiving as ever Marie was known to be -- even so, in the double-standard of the thing, the majority of critics then & since have continued to upraise Bentley while faulting Marie for hostilities that were quite reasonably brewing in her for some while. As for the majority of those she lampooned, none of it was any worse than Marie had experienced at the pens of writers far less clever than herself.
Still, having done the deed, & not wishing to take the consequences, she back-peddled at full speed. One way or the other she wasn't going to accept responsibility for it after all, poised though she'd been to claim otherwise if it had gone according to her original plan. She finally prohibited anyone of her household ever to mention that the book existed, & no copy was permitted in her & Bertha's home.
For all that, it's pretty darned good, full of fun & wickedness & really too bad she felt too abused by peoples' anger over it to continue to claim it or ever write in that mode again. Its tone is rarely reflected in the comparatively dull & political essays gathered in My Little Bit though one of the little bits is quite as highmindedly nasty as the Domino had been, & that Little Bit essay can be accessed Here.
Copyright © 2001 by Jessica Amanda Salmonson.
You may also have cause to refer to the
Marie Corelli Filmography
about all the films based on some of her books; as well my essay on
The Life & Gothic Tales of Marie Corelli
& of course the
Bibliography of Marie's Gothic & Occult Fiction
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Violet Books buys & sells books by & about Marie Corelli, & other Victorian occult romancers. Quotes for whole libraries or individual books welcomed. Check out the Weird Fiction Catalog or take this short cut direct to the Marie Corelli Stock.
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