The Sorrows of Satan

The Sorrows of Satan is an 1895 Faustian novel by Marie Corelli. It is widely regarded as one of the world's first best-sellers – partly due to an upheaval in the system British libraries used to purchase their books, and partly due to its popular appeal. Roundly condemned by contemporary literary critics for Corelli's moralistic and prosaic style,[1] it nonetheless had strong supporters, including Oscar Wilde and various members of royalty.

The Sorrows of Satan
First print 1895
AuthorMarie Corelli
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHorror, social criticism
Publication date

Widely ignored in literary circles, it is increasingly regarded as an influential fin de siècle text. The book is occasionally subtitled "Or the Strange Experience of One Geoffrey Tempest, Millionaire".

Plot summary

On the surface the plot follows the story of a penniless, starving author called Geoffrey Tempest. So poor that he is behind on his rent and can barely afford light in his room, he receives three letters. The first is from a friend in Australia who has made his fortune and offers to introduce him to a good friend who might be able to lift him from poverty. The second is a note from a solicitor detailing that he has inherited a fortune from a deceased relative. The third is a letter of introduction from a foreign aristocrat called Lucio, who befriends him and proceeds to be his guide in how best to use his newfound wealth.

Tempest remains blissfully unaware throughout the novel, despite warnings from people he meets, that Lucio is the earthly incarnation of the Devil. Over the course of the book, his wealth leads to misery. Eventually, when confronted with the true nature of his companion, he renounces evil and returns to society penniless but content with the chance to purify his soul.

Although the plot follows Tempest's fall from grace and subsequent redemption, he is in many regards a secondary character to Lucio. Both the title of the work and much of its philosophical content relate to the supreme yearning within Satan to achieve salvation. The book's main contribution to Faustian literature is the introduction of the concept that above all other people it is Satan who most truly believes in the Gospel – and yet he is forbidden ever to partake of it.

Major themes

The novel is notable for its attempts to mix Christian thought with popular heterodox themes of the day, such as reincarnation and Theosophy or Blavatskyism. It is also a damning critique of the time's social structure – claiming both that Britain's elite are morally bankrupt and hinting an allegiance to ideals that soon gained in prominence after its publication (such as women's suffrage and the universal welfare state).

It also touches on other issues, from the nature of appearance versus reality to the role of poverty in fostering true talent. Corelli is particularly scathing of literary critics (perhaps accounting for their dislike of the work) judging that the only true measure of a book's success is whether common people will buy and read it.

Critical reception

Horror critic R. S. Hadji placed The Sorrows of Satan at number one in his list of the worst horror novels ever written.[2]

Brian Stableford, discussing Corelli's "narcissistic" novels, described The Sorrows of Satan thus: "as delusions of grandeur and expressions of devout wish-fulfilment go, the fascination of the Devil was an unsurpassble masterstroke".[1]

James Joyce and Proust

After meeting Proust once at a party, James Joyce remarked: "He looked like the hero of The Sorrows of Satan."


Other notes

  • The name Mavis was invented for and popularised by the book.[5]
  • Many critics view the Mavis Clare character as a surrogate for Marie Corelli: they are both popular novelists who are not taken seriously by the literary establishment; they share views on the "immoral" literature of the day; and they share the initials M.C.[6][7]


  1. Brian Stableford, "Corelli, Marie" in St. James Guide To Fantasy Writers, ed. David Pringle, London, St. James Press, 1996, ISBN 1-55862-205-5, (p. 129-31).
  2. R. S. Hadji, "13 Worst Stinkers of the Weird", in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, July–August 1983. TZ Publications, Inc. (pp. 86–87).
  3. Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). "Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era". Midnight Marquee Press. p. 305. ISBN 978-1936168-68-2.
  4. Mavis –
  5. Literary scholar P.J. Keating's introduction to "The Sorrows of Satan" (Oxford World Classics Edition, published 1998)
  6. "The Sorrows of Satan"—and of Marie Corelli – The Reviews of Reviews, Vol 12. (Google Books)
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