In This Article Ouida

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Editions
  • Critical Surveys and Collections
  • Politics
  • Animal Rights
  • Italy
  • Aestheticism
  • Capitalism, Consumerism, and Commodity Culture
  • Print Culture and Authorship
  • Under Two Flags
  • Moths
  • A Dog of Flanders
  • Adaptations

Victorian Literature Ouida
by
Shari Hodges Holt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0153

Introduction

“Ouida” (b. 1839–d. 1908) was the pen name of Marie Louise Ramé (altered to Marie Louise de la Ramée), one of the most prolific and popular writers of the late 19th century. Ouida produced twenty-nine novels, two volumes of essays, numerous short stories, and an extensive body of journalism, attracting a remarkably diverse, international readership that included contemporary admirers such as Oscar Wilde, Jack London, John Ruskin, and Max Beerbohm. Her early romances, which combined features of sensation fiction, the silver-fork novel, and the military adventure narrative, were prized by her readership (and derided by the critical establishment) for their scandalous, glamorized depictions of high society. Her later novels set in Italy (where she settled in 1871) drew the admiration of contemporary writers for their poetic landscapes and politically scathing portrayals of peasant suffering. Society novels from the final decades of her career presented satirical portraits of European fin-de-siècle decadence, even as her journalism took a polemical turn to such issues as the woman question, antivivisectionism, British colonialism, and Italian politics. Maligned in the popular press as a scandalous eccentric, Ouida nevertheless sustained a career as an unmarried, self-supporting woman writer that provides a fascinating window into contemporaneous celebrity culture. The damage done to her reputation by the popular press and her principal biographers, as well as the stylistic excesses of her fiction, contributed to her exclusion from the modernist literary canon. Aside from minimal interest sustained through film adaptations of Under Two Flags and A Dog of Flanders, she remained relatively unknown in the 20th century. Although her novels feature sexually transgressive, independent females and vehement attacks on the institution of marriage, Ouida was largely ignored in the feminist revision of the literary canon, primarily due to her vocal opposition to many feminist causes, best exemplified by her attack on the New Woman (which she is credited with naming in an 1894 essay denouncing the type). A few exceptional studies in the late 20th century linking her works with sensation fiction and aestheticism led to new critical interest. The 2008 centenary of her death marked the publication of the first book-length survey of her novels, as well as international conferences in England and Italy that produced outstanding volumes of essays. Subsequent Ouida scholarship from perspectives as varied as print culture studies, adaptation theory, ecocriticism, and queer theory suggests that Ouida’s oeuvre is a fertile field for academic study.

Biography

As Jordan 2009 and King 2013 point out, Ouida has not been well served by her principal biographers. There are four book-length biographies of Ouida: Lee 1914, ffrench 1938, Bigland 1951, and Stirling 1957. Although Lee 1914 cites personal memoirs, letters, and diaries, accuracy is impaired by the author’s censorship to protect the subject from scandal. Filling in the gaps in Elizabeth Lee’s biography through careful research of Ouida’s personal correspondence, Jordan 2009 shows that by censoring information about Ouida’s life, particularly her romantic relationship with the Marchese della Stufa and her rivalry with his mistress, Janet Ross, Lee created a damaging portrait of Ouida as a naive, romantically infatuated woman that was perpetuated by later biographers. Bigland 1951 deserves special mention for its patronizing tone, which seems to be magnified throughout for comic effect, unfortunately reproducing the aura of derision that sometimes surrounded Ouida in the popular press during her lifetime. While the four book-length biographies provide important details about Ouida’s life and career, they are unreliable, and Jordan 2009 should be consulted as a necessary corrective to their misconstructions. As shorter alternatives to the book-length studies, Jordan 1995 is an accessible, thorough overview of Ouida’s life and career and is a good place to start for researchers interested in Ouida’s biography, while King 2013 provides particular focus on the details of Ouida’s writing career, taking full advantage of the archival information available about the publication of her works and her relationships with her publishers.

  • Bigland, Eileen. Ouida, the Passionate Victorian. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1951.

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    Book-length biography marred by dated gender assumptions and an excessively patronizing attitude toward its subject. Bigland is the most egregious of Ouida’s biographers in perpetuating the image of her as a self-deluded fantasist. Includes images of several relevant locations and people, as well as a few satirical cartoons inspired by Ouida’s works.

  • ffrench, Yvonne. Ouida: A Study in Ostentation. London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1938.

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    The second of the book-length biographies of Ouida, with additional material drawn from correspondence and diaries. Includes a handful of illustrations and a facsimile of a letter.

  • Jordan, Jane. “Ouida: The Enigma of a Literary Identity.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 57.1 (1995): 75–105.

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    An important work for recovering Ouida’s life, career, and writings as the subject of academic study, Jordan’s article provides an outstanding overview of Ouida’s life and career that avoids the excesses of previous biographers and provides a critical survey of her novels, focusing on biographical elements.

  • Jordan, Jane. “‘Everything Is TRUE as Solemnly as I Can Declare It’: The Case of Ouida and Her Biographers.” In Life Writing: The Spirit of the Age and the State of the Art. Edited by Meg Jensen and Jane Jordan, 183–194. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2009.

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    An essential supplement to the four book-length biographies that rectifies some of their errors and misconstructions. Meticulous research demonstrates how omissions in the work of Ouida’s first biographer created a lasting image of Ouida as an infatuated, “naively self-deceived woman” that later biographers perpetuated and magnified, resulting in the severe diminishment of her literary reputation (p. 183).

  • King, Andrew. “Ouida, 1839–1908: Quantities, Aesthetics, Politics.” In Ouida and Victorian Popular Culture. Edited by Jane Jordan and Andrew King, 13–35. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.

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    An excellent overview of Ouida’s life, with special focus on the print history of her works.

  • Lee, Elizabeth. Ouida: A Memoir. London: Fisher Unwin, 1914.

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    The first book-length biography of Ouida. Lee’s omissions and misconstructions, particularly the censoring of letters related to Ouida’s affair with the Marchese della Stufa, laid the foundation for the damaging construction of Ouida’s character perpetuated by later biographers.

  • Stirling, Monica. The Fine and the Wicked: The Life and Times of Ouida. London: Gollancz, 1957.

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    Offers a more detailed account of Ouida’s relationship with the Marchese della Stufa, although still lacking important information. Illustrated with a few photos of relevant places and a reproduction of a letter by Ouida.

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