Ouida’s Beautiful Nightmare: When Lolita, Steampunk, and Afrofuturism converge in Neo-Victorian Aestheticism
The Ghost Dressed in Lace and Leather
Ouida’s ghost is dwelling today among the living, and it is likely that her spirit is simultaneously consumed with fascination and repulsion. By Ouida’s standards, our contemporary society is a world vulgar and defiled. She wasn’t shy in expressing her disappointment regarding what she perceived as civil society in decline. In an essay titled “Vulgarity” (1895), Ouida warned, “Exaggeration of our own value is one of the most offensive of all forms of vulgarity, and science has much to answer for in its present pompous and sycophantic attitude before the excellence and importance of humanity” (336). Imagine how she would look upon a generation that worships celebrity culture and perpetually indulges in broadcasting the private life on social media. I think we can assume that Ouida would find the “selfie” the epitome of everything wrong with the age. Also, paramount among her concerns was the degradation of the world’s natural and artistic beauty. In “The Ugliness of Modern Life” (1900) she links the two in no uncertain terms:
"The loss of beauty from the world is generally regarded as the purely sentimental grievance of imaginative persons; but it is not so; it is a loss which must impress its vacuity fatally on the human mind and character. It tends, more than any other loss, to produce that apathy, despondency and cynical indifference which are so largely characteristic of the modern temper." (212)
Indeed, much of the destruction associated with the Second Industrial Revolution has already wrought its havoc upon the globe. Gratefully, climate change aside, at least in the “developed world” we dwell in an aftermath that is instead defined by comparative environmental restoration.