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.
2. Marie Corelli (1855-1924)
“Ouida is a woman of genius. Not, Talent, merely, but Genius.”
Modern day Ouidaites and literary scholars remember Corelli for having weaponized the author in a larger debate regarding women’s genius. Her April 1890 Belgravia piece, “A Word about Ouida,” for instance, injects the notion of male chauvinism into the discourse on the author’s true merit and reception. Corelli, I believe, rightly identified men’s gender bias as having been one of the primary reasons for the neglect and outright contempt for Ouida exhibited by many of the male critics of her age. Still, one cannot help but to recall that some of Ouida’s staunchest detractors were the women who viewed her as a threat to their understanding of “proper” femininity.
3. Sir Henry Maximillian “Max” Beerbohm (1872-1956)
“No writer was ever more finely endowed than Ouida with the love and knowledge of all kinds of beauty in art and nature.”
Late in her career, Max Beerbohm emerged as one of Ouida’s most ardent defenders. In his essay on the author titled “Ouida” (1899), Beerbohm credits himself along with G. S. Street and Stephen Crane as the “intelligent critics” who had been responsible for catalyzing the paradigmatic shift among her reviewers. This shift had changed the nature of reviews on Ouida’s novels from a tone of ridicule and disdain to one of long-deserved respect. Further than that, he was among the first to celebrate many of the qualities in her writing that had long been considered her worst defects.
4. Jack London (1876-1916)
“Reading the story, my narrow-hill horizon was pushed back, and all the world was made possible if I would dare it.”
It is through the posthumous publication of correspondence and written reflections that we learn that Ouida was one of Jack London’s earliest and most influential inspirations. The fact that London cited the reading of Ouida’s Signa (1875) as one of his chief motivations for pursuing a career as a novelist cannot be overstated. Think of all the great works that would have never come to being, had it not been for that fateful childhood reading.
5. Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957)
“That was why Ouida put those others in the shade…”
Dorothy Richardson, the unreservedly modernist author responsible for innovating and advancing the “stream of consciousness” style of creative writing, gave a not-so-subtle endorsement of Ouida in the third chapter of her book Honeycomb (1917)—the third book in the Pilgrimages series. As this novel sequence is now looked upon as something of a roman à clef, we can assume that such an endorsement was indicative of Richardson’s true impressions of the author.
6. Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964)
“Lanky guardsmen with their wasp-waists, the vampire of the silver screen, these we owe to Ouida’s imagination.”
The fact that Carl Van Vecthen was an admirer of Ouida’s fiction is probably overlooked by contemporary scholars of American literature. However, for the novelist, photographer, and Harlem Renaissance aficionado himself, this admiration was no secret. By his own admission, Van Vechten made a late discovery in realizing that he harbored sympathies for the author. Yet, it is somewhat gratifying to find that his essay celebrating Ouida was published just as her legacy was beginning to move from film adaptation into a long-lived decline. His offering, I believe, was a beautiful ribbon wrapped around Ouida’s gift of inspiration for subsequent generations.
Beerbohm, Max. “Ouida,” More. London and New York: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1899.
Fitzsimons, Eleanor. Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew. London and New York: Duckworth Overlook, 2015.
London, Jack. “Eight Factors of Literary Success.” The Silhouette, February 1917 (reprinted in No Mentor, 163-164).
London, Jack, Dale L. Walker, and Jeanne C. Reesman. No Mentor but Myself: Jack London on Writers and Writing. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Richardson, Dorothy M. Pilgrimages: Honeycomb. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1917.
Schroeder, Natalie, and Shari H. Holt. Ouida the Phenomenon: Evolving Social, Political, and Gender Concerns in Her Fiction. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008.
Van Vechten, Carl. Excavations: A Book of Advocacies. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1926.