Born Mary Mackay in London, she was the illegitimate daughter of a well known Scottish poet and songwriter, Dr. Charles Mackay, and his servant, Elizabeth Mills. In 1866, the very young Mary Mackay was sent to a Parisian convent to further her education. She would only return to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland four years later in 1870. Mary Mackay began her career as a musician, adopting the name Marie Corelli for her billing. She gave up music, turning to writing instead and in 1886 published her first novel, A Romance of Two Worlds. In her time, she was the most widely read author of fiction but came under harsh criticism from many of the literary elite for her overly melodramatic and emotional writing. Despite this, her works were collected by members of the British Royal Family, and by Winston and Randolph Churchill, amongst others. Professional critics deplored her books.
The Jacqueline Susann of her time, who shared her mansion with her livelong friend Bertha Vyver, her difficult ego and huge sales inspired some quotable moments of spite: Grant Allen called her, in the pages of The Spectator, "a woman of deplorable talent who imagined that she was a genius, and was accepted as a genius by a public to whose commonplace sentimentalities and prejudices she gave a glamorous setting;" James Agate represented her as combining "the imagination of a Poe with the style of an Ouida and the mentality of a nursemaid." A recurring theme throughout Corelli's books was her attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral projection and other mystical topics. Her books were a very important part of the foundation of today's New Age religion, some of whose adherents say that Corelli was "inspired". [Wikipedia]