Review by John S:
Satan in the form of the dashing Prince Lucio Rimânez is abroad in this late Victorian novel by Marie Corelli. Prince Lucio affects to befriend the conceited Geoffrey Tempest, a struggling author, bringing him riches, critical acclaim (after his reviewers are bribed), a beautiful wife in Lady Sibyl, and of course a horse that wins the Derby. Tempest is too full of himself to realise that something is fundamentally amiss, despite Lucio’s stagey hints that he is a villain. Lucio’s conversation lurches between cynical banter and pithy sermons on the depravity of mankind. Only the saintly popular novelist, Mavis Clare, whose work Tempest shreds in a jealous review, can resist the Prince’s blandishments. Could Miss Clare be Miss Corelli in disguise, just as Prince Lucio is Satan in disguise?
Tempest’s life unravels. Lady Sibyl married for two reasons: £5 million and the opportunity to launch herself at Lucio. But, in a painful scene, the frantic Lady Sibyl is rejected by her intended demon lover. Sibyl takes poison, and writes an endless suicide note in which she blames racy and blasphemous literature – the horrid Swinburne in particular – for corrupting her. Tempest then sails to Egypt with Lucio, but things go from bad to worse in the land of the Pharoahs. During a storm on the voyage home, Lucio reveals himself as Satan, and offers Tempest one last chance to repent. The Prince takes his guest on a luxury cruise through Hell where the inmates are tormented in textbook fashion. Acting sensibly for once, Tempest turns to God and is released. Back in England, he reverts to his garret and his scribbling. He hopes one day to be worthy of Mavis.
Marie Corelli’s mission is to convince readers that sin does not pay, and she sticks to her guns. Sin enters readers’ lives through wicked books. Sin enters authors’ lives when they succumb to pride, and to feelings of jealousy towards virtuous best-selling novelists like Mavis Clare and Marie Corelli. Satan, to his credit, does not enjoy the role of tempter. He too has his sorrows. Human beings are sordid, and except for Mavis Clare, pushovers. Satan would much rather be in heaven relaxing with his pals the other angels. Readers today need not be put off by Marie Corelli’s theology. Her tale of Prince Lucio, Geoffrey Tempest, Lady Sibyl, and Mavis Clare is sufficiently entertaining to be read for its own sake.