Saturday, March 12, 2011


Ziska; the problem of a wicked soul
Marie Corelli
Marie Corelli
Paperback: 372 pages
Publisher: Nabu Press (September 4, 2010)
originally published 1897
3/5 stars

Marie Corelli was a highly popular writer of sensational novels in the Victorian era.  She combined high melodrama with an attempt to reconcile Christianity with reincarnation, astral project and other spiritual aspects not generally associated with Christianity.  With Ziska, Corelli uses the medium of novel writing as a vehicle for just that crusade.

The plot of Ziska takes place in the British society's "Season" in Cairo.  According to Corelli, t is just the same as the London Season, only with slightly looser morals, giving the greater opportunity to find husbands for daughters past their prime on the marriage market.  The Princess Ziska has appeared on the scene, and taken this tight community by storm.  Nothing is known about her, except that she is unusually beautiful and has stolen the hearts of all the young men, the Scottish laird Denzil Murray in particular.  When Murray's best friend, the famous French painter Armand Gervase, arrives in Cairo, complications arise.  Gervase immediately falls for Ziska, makes no pretense that he (unlike Murray) does not have pure intentions, and feels that he knows her from somewhere.

Murray's mentor and friend, Dr. Maxwell Dean acts as the mouthpiece for Corelli's unconvetional spiritual beliefs, and through him the reader begins to see that there is something not quite human and Ziska and that she and Gervase are somehow destined to be together.

A good portion of this novel is given over to soliloquy in which Corelli expresses her opinion about various things.  The first 21 pages, for example, are a roast of the British tourist in Egypt, and of how said tourist wants to make all foreign lands into another version of England.  It made for amusing reading, but I did begin to wonder if I had stumbled onto a book of essays instead of a novel.

The rest of the book is much taken up with much discussion of reincarnation and of a slightly different take on Christianity. It was interesting the first time, but Corelli has her characters discuss this time and again, and for paragraphs and pages, and by the end, I was skimming large parts of conversations.

The actual storyline was rather thrilling, in the way of a Victorian sensational novel, despite the fact that Dr. Dean spells it out for the reader several times.  Had it not been for his "spoilers" and for the recurring, yawn-inducing philosophizing, this would have been a rather good read.  There was drama and humor and emotion, as well as interesting characters, but there was just way too much laborious, stilted conversations about spiritualism that kept interrupting the flow and made Ziska a struggle to finish.

~~Read for the Victorian Literature Challenge.~~

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