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.
I think all modern day Ouidaites can agree on the notion that Ouida was a serious music lover. It is well known that the novel Moths (1880) was, in part, devoted to her favorite opera singer, Mario Candia, and biographical accounts of the author point out that her room at Villa Farinola boldly displayed the singer’s portrait. If you pay close attention to her work, I would argue that you could begin to trace the outlines of the author’s particular musical preferences. I would hazard to assert, for instance, that she enjoyed the early baroque and classical period somewhat above the romantic and modern period compositions that graced the music halls of her own generation. Yet, we also come away with the impression that she was not averse to at least some of the music of her age, particularly when could she identify within it, the mark of genius. With that, it is interesting to note that in addition to the musical references that Ouida purposefully included in her works of fiction, some of the stories themselves eventually became the source of new musical compositions. For your listening pleasure, I put together a short list of some of the musical references found in her novels and some of the music later inspired by her works.
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.
In recognition of the completion of the inaugural year of this fan blog, it is with great pleasure that I present this latest post on my passion for collecting Ouidiana. I have several life goals with respect to my dreams of revitalizing a readership for the author in the twenty-first century. I am currently working on a specialized descriptive bibliography of her works. In time, I hope one day to help establish a literary association devoted to the preservation of her legacy. Paramount among my goals, however, is to build a sizable transnational Ouida library with an emphasis on the Lippincott editions.
Apart from Folle-Farine, Moths is definitely my favorite of Ouida’s novels. It was the second novel from the author that I read, right after I had finished reading Under Two Flags in the Summer/Fall of 2013. Really, it is one of my all-time favorite novels written in any language, from any point in the history of literature, period. In this installment of Ouida’s marvelous wordscapes, the author takes us through another journey of Victorian Era marriage, this time, however, from the vantage point of marriage as prostitution.