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.
A Dog of Flanders, and Other Stories (1872)
Number one on the list was certainly an easy choice for me, and one that would be difficult to disagree with on account of its near universal acclaim. A Dog of Flanders is arguably Ouida’s most beloved and recognizable story. It has kept the author’s memory alive where she would have otherwise been forgotten. And in some parts of the world, it has given the author a fresh following—one that she could never have imagined during her lifetime. Through its various adaptations, this classic “boy and his dog” story has touched the hearts of literally millions of people across the globe. The original collection of stories that it was published in, moreover, which includes “A Provence Rose” and “A Leaf in the Storm,” adds even more tragic poignancy to the story. More so than when you read it as a standalone novelette or when framed as children’s literature.
Ouida’s gentle foray into genre fiction contains some of her most intellectually sophisticated prose. Ouida paints another one of her trademark word pictures in a haunting story that unfolds in a “butterfly effect.” Here, also, looking at the cold and calculated plotting of Damer (one of her most diabolical villains), a serious critique of vivisection and modern medicine lurks in the narrative.
The Tower of Taddeo (1892)
As a book person, this book really has to be in my top five. I find it surprising that more book lovers have not championed this book as one of the great works of bibliocentric fiction. The story puts Ouida’s intimate knowledge of the book collecting world on full display. It is one that every bibliophile and collector can relate to—a tale of how a person’s passion for collecting can sometimes lead to the most unfortunate results.
Street Dust and Other Stories (1901)
“Their mother was dead,” is how one of Ouida’s most depressing stories, “Street Dust,” begins. This story is so sad, it makes A Dog of Flanders seem cheerful by comparison. But there is something striking in the bare and honest portrayal of abject poverty described in this story. And, it is difficult not to feel sorry for the two orphaned young girls, aged twelve and ten, who must struggle to make sense out of a heartless world that repeatedly fails to recognize their suffering and, essentially, their humanity.
The Waters of Edera (1900)
Aside from Helianthus (1908), this mesmeric and thoroughly bucolic story offers Ouida’s bitterest last word on the corruption of modernity and industrialization. Seen in a certain light, it stands as a watermark of the peace and tranquility long abandoned by contemporary society in the interest of safety, security, and, most of all, convenience.