Okay, so it is appropriate at this time to introduce my personal top five Ouida novels. I have already listed the top five according to Goodreads in the Reading Challenges. My personal list represents a substantial departure from the popular choice.
1. Folle Farine (1871)
Not just my favorite Ouida novel, but my all-time number one. This book was nothing less than transformational. I cathartically suffered through the trials and tribulations of the book’s heroine, Folle Farine (the “dust of the mills”). I shed tears as she was repeatedly used and abused. I literally cheered out loud and applauded when she finally overpowered the most brutal of her enslavers—her maternal grandfather. And I shrank in disgust at Prince Sartorian, whom I found to be one of Ouida’s most diabolical villains. I love this novel in particular for the manner in which it succeeds in delving deep into questions of sex and race unlike any other that I have read before. It is here, I think, that Ouida’s lifelong discourse on the role and nature of art in society quietly commences in earnest.
2. Moths (1880)
Of course Ouida’s Moths (1880) had to be on my list as the number two title. Prior to reading Folle Farine (1871), it was actually both my favorite novel and my favorite Ouida novel. It is here that my personal selection is in close agreement with the wider pool of Ouida readers. Ouida has many novels such as Folle Farine and In Maremma (1882) that are more melancholic in tone and subject than the others. I believe that some of her books even, ever so delicately, drift into the realm of the Gothic. Others like Pascarel (1874) are comparatively brighter works. Ouida’s Moths, however, strikes the most successful balance between the two ends of her most fascinating spectrum.
3. Syrlin (1890)
I am not exactly certain what it was about Syriln (1890) which caused me to find so much pleasure in reading it, but I do know that found it infinitely intriguing in both plot and dialogue. I think that what I enjoyed most about this novel, aside from its characters, was its placidness. It is a sense of placidness that Ouida was able to carry through another of one her not so unfamiliar riots; but it is one that comes out most clearly in the winter ice skating scene toward the novel’s conclusion. In my opinion this novel is a greatly underappreciated work, even by fans. I would love to see more literary investigation devoted to this title, so it stays at number three.
4. Pascarel (1874)
This novel provided me with a truly unique reading experience. Actually, Puck (1870) had held the number four spot for a couple of years until I finally read this one. It was a pretty difficult decision for me to have it bumped off the list because I found that Puck was extremely entertaining. It would have been a grave injustice to the author, however, if at least one of the novels in the Italian Set did not ultimately make the list. You might have noticed, for instance, that In Maremma (1882) made the Goodreads top five. Still, although I did find In Maremma (1882) to be a gorgeously written, strangely serene tale, and even though Signa (1875) made me think seriously about some of my personal family relationships, I simply loved how Pascarel managed to recreate the experience of falling in love, page by page.
5. The Massarenes (1897)
Probably Ouida’s clearest statement on money and corruption; definitely her most comedic novel. The Massarenes (1897) features memorable characters and biting witticism in a “cat and mouse” game that is reminiscent of her Strathmore (1865), but without the starkly contrasting sobriety of the earlier work. It is also an homage of sorts to her American fan base. She lavished us with the gifts of her satirical insights regarding our flaws as a nation and we ate it up with absolute enjoyment, rewarding the author with our wallets. As a successor to this great tradition of American Ouida fandom, I proudly hold this comedy at a solid number five.