|Marie Corelli (thanks Timprasil)|
But was she a lesbian, as many modern commentators have alleged, or did the fact that for forty years she shared her life with a certain Bertha Vyver, an irrelevancy? It has been rightly pointed out that it would be ridiculous to ascribe any homosexual leanings to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson based merely on the fact that they shared a flat in Baker Street. And the same could be said of many literary figures, both real and fictional. In the case of Corelli, it could also be argued that she was passionately attached to the painter Arthur Severn for many years, but that her feelings were not reciprocated.
However, it could also be argued that although the erotic descriptions of women in her novels were expressed by men, it does not follow that Corelli’s own feelings for women could not have been put into the mouths of male fictional characters. In this regard here we have a letter that suggests that Corelli was indeed attracted to certain women and wasn’t afraid to express her feelings on the subject of female beauty. The letter in question dates from October 1913, when Corelli was aged 58, and is addressed from her home in Stratford on Avon (now the HQ of the Shakespeare Institute) to the botanist Mildred E. Dobson (d.1952), daughter of the poet Austin, then the young warden of University Hall, St Andrews University.
Corelli begins her letter by wishing Dobson the ‘best possible wishes of the season ‘ and explaining that although she is presently bedridden due a bad cold, she intends to return to her London home as soon as she has recovered. Corelli then mentions receiving a ‘pretty note‘from another female and proceeds to invite Miss Dobson to dine ‘with me’. More significantly, the novelist ends her letter thus:
‘My homage to your father, if I may send it!—and with affectionate remembrance of you, and your lovely eyes!‘ (my italics)
Here’s the question. Was it usual a hundred years ago for one woman to complement a younger woman on her ‘lovely eyes ‘? I really don’t see why a woman would say something similar to another---unless, of course, she was, like Corelli, spontaneous and passionate---and indeed, gay or bi-sexual.