I posted my five all-time favorite Ouida novels in 2016, within the first couple of months of this blog’s creation and almost two years ago to the date. I believe the time is long overdue, then, to offer a similar list for her shorter works. I must confess that I have yet to finish reading all the short story collections in Ouida’s corpus; and for that reason, perhaps this list is a little premature. However, with only eight books left before I will have finished reading all her available published works, I believe that I am now in a good position to single out some of the best offerings in this area.
On Saturday, May 19, 2018, the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will mark a tremendous moment for the “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. Like many of my compatriots, I will be celebrating this occasion by watching the live broadcast of the Royal Wedding and enjoying a cup or two of Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend. On this day, however, I will be marking my own important rite of passage in the form of a lecture. When it comes to Ouida, first and foremost I see myself as a devoted fan. In this way, the Ouida Otaku project stands as an exploration of fandom rather than any serious attempt at scholarly investigation. For the most part, I have tried to maintain a sense of frivolity in my blog posts in my effort to avoid the solemnity that often accompanies the gravitas and rigor of academic study. With some exceptions here and there, I believe that I will continue to do so. Yet, I am beginning to make certain accommodations in my work in terms of integrating my passion for Ouida’s novels into the trajectory of my career as a scholar-librarian. And so, I am making my first formal expedition into the scholarly discourse on Ouida next month.
Among other things, Ouida is remembered for her love of animals. She championed animal rights far before it was popular to do so. Naturally her genuine compassion for animals, both wild and domestic, would find its voice throughout much of her writing. As an essayist, Ouida had no misgivings about using her platform to advocate for the humane treatment of animals. And in her creative writing, Ouida seldom shied away from an opportunity to populate her fictional landscapes with equally compelling characters from the animal world. Obviously, given her well-known reputation as a dog person, “man’s best friend” tends to show up most frequently. Her novel Puck (1870), for instance, was written from the canine perspective. Yet, the animal characters in her stories are not limited to dogs alone. Reading through her corpus one can expect to encounter a variety of birds, horses, and even monkeys, always vivid in description, and sometimes in delightful personification. Here is a list of some of Ouida’s more memorable animal characters:
Scrapbooking has caught my attention recently, mainly because of a seminar I’m currently teaching on scrapbooks as literary documents. As a dedicated Ouida fan, I put together an unembellished digital scrapbook fairly early on in the life of my fandom; and later, I created a somewhat traditional “analog” scrapbook assembled from printed newspaper clippings (granted, the clippings came from digital surrogates that were printed with a desktop computer printer). Lately, however, I have been particularly interested in experimenting within the aesthetic confines and visual language of contemporary digital scrapbooking. I am fascinated by the idea of storytelling or even creating an atmospheric sense of cohesiveness with these subtle visual cues. It is a cohesion, it seems, that is dialogically enmeshed with one’s textual formation of the “author function,” the celebrity more than the author herself.
I have, in my personal collection, an extant copy of the September 1897 issue of Cosmopolitan that includes an article by Ouida about fashion, “On the Art of Dress.” The article offers some interesting details about the author’s thoughts on style. And, as one would expect, in it, she says a great deal about what she felt were the most indefensible shortcomings of fashion in the coming age of modernity. It is a clear indication that fashion was a subject that was nearly as close to Ouida’s heart as other, loftier subjects such as art, animal rights, humanitarianism, and the environment. If you pay close to attention to her detailed descriptions of scene and setting, you will no doubt take notice of the clever way that Ouida created a rich tapestry of style in her novels by affording her imaginative menagerie of stock characters with distinct outfits and wardrobes as a means of differentiating them in either use or reuse. Here is a list of eight characters that I found to be among the most striking in their style and fashion:
Politician and orator Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899) once confessed in 1894 that Ouida was the world’s “greatest living novelist.” Praise from a man who outsold Oscar Wilde on the lecture circuit was not insignificant. Had I been alive during that time, I would have echoed his sentiments. It is heartening to discover, then, that Ouida’s name appears in at least a smattering of novels from the last years of her life to the point when her readership truly started to disappear in the West. In some cases (as noted in my post on her literary legacy), Ouida’s name is mentioned as an affirmation of a personal fondness for the author’s work. Cleary, this is the case with her appearance in the writing of Van Vechten and Richardson. In other instances, such as in Merrick’s Quaint Companions (1903) and Tillman’s turn of the century novella, her memory is evoked as a device to convey information about the characters being described. Here is a short list of some of the more notable mentions in fiction:
In the spring of 2014, just shy of a year into my own journey as a contemporary Ouidaite, collector and blogger Ray Girvan made a wonderful contribution to the global community of Ouida fans. In truth, Girvan simply directed our attention to an issue that most Ouida scholars had already recognized; that is, the fact that one of the most frequently encountered digital images of Ouida on the internet is the result of posthumous misattribution. As of the date of this post, the image in question is still being used as the stock image for the author’s Wikipedia page. From there, we find it on everything from print on demand editions of her collected works to the internet memes of Ouida quotes that circulate on social media. At heart, to the contemporary Ouidaite the image seems practically ubiquitous.
Randolph Gordon (1867) is a wildly entertaining collection of short stories and novelettes—a collection, it seems, specifically marketed to Ouida's American audience. Some of the stories in this collection, such as “Blue and Yellow” and “The Marquis Tactics,” were published a few years later in a similarly themed Tauchnitz collection titled Madame la Marquise, and Other Novelettes (1872). Personally, I have become intensely fascinated by the various combinations of her short story and novelette compilations as a subject of inquiry. However, as I am eager to suggest my own theories regarding the different circumstances behind the choices made for each of the compilations, I will refrain from doing so at length in this review.
On September 27, 2017, the Morris Library held its annual Read-Out event in recognition of Banned Books week here in the United States. During these troubled times facing the nation, it is especially important that the freedom to read is both protected and championed.
1. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
“…though she is rarely true, she is never dull.”
Oscar Wilde is probably the most legendary literary figures in the cast of Ouida’s supporters. However, the idea that Ouida had a meaningful influence on his work has only recently gained traction among literary scholars. The question that currently faces us as contemporary Ouida fans concerns not the mere possibility but the degree of this influence. All the same, it is well known that Wilde was among the first of those “intelligent critics” to defy the trend and give an honest and thoughtful review of one of Ouida’s later novels. In “Ouida’s New Novel”—a review written for the May 17, 1889 issue of the Pall Mall Gazette, Wilde’s views on the author and her book Guilderoy (1889) come through in his characteristic wit and amusing style.