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.
If Ouida is remembered for a singular contribution to the advancement of creative writing among her many talents in the art of wordcraft, then recognition should go to the rich descriptions of setting found in several of her greatest novels. Almost every novel in the Italian set, for instance, contains descriptions of Italy that have been widely regarded as some of the best of their kind. Listed here are six of her most visually compelling narrative settings—all of which include vivid sketches of place written in the author's trademark style:
I am sure that I have written before that I have yet to read a novel from Ouida that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. Her characters and plots never fail to keep me entertained. I will confess, however, that even though the novel Signa did not make the top five of my favorite Ouida books list, I still found it to be nothing less than exquisite in terms of its use of language and its interlacing of theme and allegory. I am in no way a literary scholar, but having read a great deal of the scholarly literature on this author’s works, I am certain that this particular title could benefit from further academic investigation.
In an editorial response to Maurice Francis Egan’s article “Dinner with Novelists” (originally published in The Literary Northwest)—an article devoted to the “art of dinning in literature”—it is quickly brought to our attention that Dr. Egan found some of the most tantalizing literary dishes in the novels of Ouida. I would certainly have to agree with Dr. Egan on that point. So much so, in fact, that with the goal of enriching the experience of reading her novels and short stories, I took several opportunities to try some of the food and drink recipes found in her work while reading them. In the spirit of bringing the literary dining experience to life, I am presenting a list of five appealing Ouidean food and beverage mentions. I haven’t tried all the recipes listed here; nevertheless, I still recommend matching these meal and drink choices with their corresponding stories for the full effect:
For all the fame and success that Ouida achieved during the height of her career, the fact remains that she was extremely guarded when it came to her personal life. She was fervently against doing interviews with press, and she refused to write a nonfictional autobiography or memoir during her life. Her desire to keep her private life out of the scrutinizing ink of the press, in part, must have contributed to the widespread rumors and speculations that proliferated concomitantly with her growth in popularity in the public sphere.