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Perspectives victoriennes

Ouida: the Fascination of Moral Laxity

Ouida : fascination pour un relâchement de la morale
Franco Marucci
p. 593-604


Ouida (pseudonyme de Marie Louise de la Ramée, 1839-1908) quitta Bury St. Edmunds pour Londres en 1857, où l’influence de William Ainsworth, alors rédacteur en chef de Bentley’s Miscellany, lui valut une réputation de romancière. Installée à Florence dès les années 1870, elle y composa d’excellents romans, trépidants et romantiques, sur la haute société, essentiellement à la demande de l’éditeur allemand Tauchnitz, et brossa, dans d’autres, des portraits attendris de la vie paysanne de la Toscane et de la Maremme. Elle finit sa vie dans la pauvreté et mourut à Viareggio. Prolifique et multiforme, son œuvre comprend poésies, pièces de théâtre, livres pour enfants et récits de voyages, ainsi que des essais sur l’esthétique, la politique et la sociologie. Quoiqu’admirée de son vivant par Edward Bulwer Lytton et John Ruskin, sa réputation reste celle d’un écrivain mineur. Profitant du centenaire de sa mort, cet article se propose de redonner à Ouida sa juste place dans la littérature. Il y est question de son thème de prédilection – une fascination ambiguë pour la haute société aux mœurs relâchées, telle qu’on le retrouve dans les romans dits de sa « période majeure », Under Two Flags, Moths, Puck – et, de manière plus fouillée, dans Bertie Cecil, personnage hanté par une étrange et mystérieuse apathie, un fatalisme et une volonté d’anéantissement identitaire.

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  • 1  Siegfried Mews, “Sensationalism and Sentimentality: Minor Victorian Prose Writers in Germany”, Mod (...)
  • 2  G. K. Chesterton, however, mentions her (The Victorian Age in Literature, London: Williams & Norga (...)

1Ouida’s European popularity began as we know in the late 1860s, when the German publisher Tauchnitz – the “intermediary of 19th-century British fiction”1, who published more than 3500 volumes of British and American authors between 1841 and 1900 – made her the second-largest published English authoress after Mrs. Braddon. The kind of fame she enjoyed was that of the disparaged “popular fiction” writer2, and the popularity factor is the only plausible one to associate her with other female novelists who were otherwise profoundly dissimilar, such as Braddon herself and Mrs. Wood. It is true that Ouida’s oeuvre consists, setting aside the short stories and the non-fiction, of twenty-odd novels – long, pulpy, over-rich, most of which, often presented on their cover-page as “in two volumes”, equal in bulk the Victorian three-deckers. Her narrative technique suffers from a chronic absence of self-restraint. The quantity of fact does not match the verbal opulence; each single novel reaches its climax too soon, and more than half of it usually gives the impression of prolonged deflation. She narrates on the grand scale, with an emphatic and rhetorically magnifying process, and lengthy, theatrical dialogues.

  • 3  For Ouida’s influence on and by James, see Adeline R. Tintner, The Cosmopolitan World of Henry Jam (...)
  • 4  Cf. Talia Shaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England, Cha (...)

2Ouida’s prolixity and repetitiveness are sometimes unbearable. Almost three-fifths of Moths, one of her scandalous masterpieces, are a kind of narrative piétiner sur place. The novel turns out rhythmical analyses of the heroine’s ineluctable dissatisfaction – perhaps a kind of reminder to inattentive readers, the self-same gentry travelling in Europe whom she constantly chose to describe and who formed her public. On the side of her virtues we should count the ingenuousness and variety with which she reworked, novel after novel, her typical theme, the ambiguous fascination of morally lax high society. There is then a method, and a connective thread, in her narrative chaos. Her novels anticipate, and in some cases are contemporary with, those of Henry James, who may have borrowed from her some characterizations3. And a few current, cultural issues loom large and are debated with remarkable advance on the times. Her ideas on the urgent renovation of the English stage – by reflecting modern life and by making the characters use not an archaiclanguage but everyday speech – are set forth in Puck. There is some truth in the argument that she may have been a forerunner of English aestheticism4, though she wrote “acidly” on the New Woman and on female suffrage, like Mrs. Ward.

  • 5  Dee Garrison, “Immoral Fiction in the Late Victorian Library”, American Quarterly, XXVIII, 1976, 7 (...)
  • 6 Ibid., 86.
  • 7 More plausibly, as I shall argue, Bertie may be associated with the type of the “effeminate dandy”. (...)

3Critical reception insisted, in the past, on her rebelliousness. Her male protagonists were initially chosen among artists of the Byronic type, or are insolent guardsmen affecting boredom in the midst of heroism, but faithful to their code of loyalty. While criticizing her for “flushed and ornate language”, and for a fictional world removed from reality – melodramatic, devoid of the savour of truth – some early readers grouped Ouida with George Alfred Lawrence, as writers who “left convention to those who cared to regard it” and elected their audience in “les militaires”. Ouida’s first heroes are no doubt in the lineage of those of Lawrence, whose fame rests on Livingston, the social buccaneer and the superhumanly immoral person (Guy Livingstone, 1857). Recent feminism, drawing on her “wild, sensuous women”, has unearthed Ouida and enlisted her in the ranks of the presumptive rejection of traditional authority, and in feminine protest5. Can she really be included in the subgenre of “Victorian immoral fiction”, and credited with displaying “a strong sympathy for actions which greatly violated the prim moral codes of the Victorian world”?6. One may test and possibly rectify this accepted view – together with the literary association with George Sand, which frequently follows close – of a writer who courageously challenged Victorian taboos. Particularly debatable and distorting is the interpretation of Bertie Cecil (Under Two Flags) as “a hard, masculine, unintellectual Lawrentian superman”. And the Cigarette of that novel hardly seems to bring grist to the “insidious immorality” mill7.

4Ouida’s recurrent narrative archetypes are those exemplified by her two perhaps most cherished and legendary characters, Bertie Cecil and Cigarette. The first is a male aristocrat who appears irredeemably immersed in high society ennui, yet mysteriously waiting for the day when he will exhibit his latent, superior authenticity. He temporarily escapes from society, overwhelmed by surfeit and disgust, but returns, ready to transform it. Ouida’s second stereotype is the masculine-feminine “natural” girl, who refuses the traditional images of femininity and slowly undergoes a process of discovery of her sexuality: in that sense many, if not all, of Ouida’s young, crude heroines are subsequent avatars of Cigarette. All of them must finally succumb and sacrifice their lives for males who, no matter how much metamorphosed by her, must re-enter their former social habitat. The chief, utopian theme of Ouida’s fiction is then invariably the palingenesis of high society through a redemptive hero or heroine. High society life may be frivolous, may need correction, but is irresistible. All the descendants of Bertie Cecil in Ouida’s fiction are characters vacillating on the border between two worlds, who are of that world and outside that world, tempted by, yet alert to its dissipation. These male, and in some cases female outsiders, closely resemble some of Wilde’s dramatic roles, such as Lady Windermere and Lady Chiltern.

5Under Two Flags (1867), the first of Ouida’s popular best-sellers, begins, and continues for pages and pages, without any appreciable narrative verve; it seems as if the novelist were indefinitely postponing the narrative take-off. The first half, set in England and partly in Germany, opens with over-long dialogues full of innuendos and flashy descriptions of the usual mid-Victorian entertainments, such as the Derby, the hunts and the gambling table, also prominent in Trollope. Ouida wants to astound, to show off with her effervescent, fragmented, allusive dialogue, and a far from linear expositive manner. The novel is fraught with topical jargon and allusions which, clear at the time, sound largely obscure today. Trollope is not the only predecessor of whom one is reminded. The attempt to reproduce the chatter of a closed set, deliberately unassisted by stage-directions, is obviously modelled, in fact, on the opening chapter of Disraeli’s Sybil, which reveals that Ouida was not only influenced by that novel but also by Disraeli’s other fiction written before the outset of his political career, normally considered a typical example of the English “silver fork” (“passions don’t do for the drawing room, as somebody says in Coningsby”). Society as a whole is reduced to a set of young, rich, shining Guardsmen and Cavalry officers, formally members of the army but spending most of their time in attending receptions, squandering family fortunes, courting heiresses, and betting on horse races where they also figure as jockeys. The only representatives of the lower strata of society are servants and valets. Ouida soon finds for her Quixote a Sancho, the groom Rake, a source of amusing, pathetic gags and growingly seriocomic intermezzos:

From the circus [Rake] migrated successively into the shape of a comic singer, a tapster, a navvy, a bill-sticker, a guacho in Mexico (working his passage out), a fireman in New York, a ventriloquist in Maryland, a vaquero in Spanish California, a lemonade seller in San Francisco, a revolutionist in the Argentine (without the most distant idea what he fought for), a boatman on the bay of Mapiri, a blacksmith in Santarem, a trapper in the Wilderness, and finally, working his passage home again, took the Queen’s shilling in Dublin, and was drafted into a light-cavalry regiment. With the —th he served half a dozen years in India; a rough-rider, a splendid fellow in a charge or a pursuit, with an astonishing power over horses, and the clearest back-handed sweep of a saber that ever cut down a knot of natives; but — insubordinate. Do his duty whenever fighting was in question, he did most zealously; but to kick over the traces at other times was a temptation that at last became too strong for that lawless lover of liberty (Under Two Flags, ch. 5).

6On the other hand, the lazy, flirting officers in their golden isolation, stuck in their separate world of card-playing and inebriating chatter about horses, evoke the Thackerayan sagas of the post-Napoleonic, enervated soldier. After Thackeray, and before Kipling, in this novel Ouida focuses on the Victorian military man well after the close of the Napoleonic wars, when, if one excepts the Crimea and the forces keeping control in the colonies, that class had become alienated and useless in a Europe which was enjoying – or suffering from – a long peace. The internal time of Under Two Flags, never explicitly revealed, is approximately the one before the collapse of the French Second Empire; the only significant historical fact mentioned, useful in dating the novel, is that of the Afghan war. Those precocious aesthetes – the officers of the army – live a far too comfortable and thoughtless life, rich in pleasures and vices, in indolence and detachment. They are viveurs and would have been true aesthetes in advance of their time, were it not for a passion for horses and for gambling which is alien to the dandy —and one implying if only a pretence of active life foreign to nerveless aestheticism. Bertie Cecil is such a one: from the outset a white-skinned, blond, ephebic fop. Pipe-smoking, moustache-stroking, in the opening scene he gets his valet to polish his uniform, and is eager to know the latest news on race-horses. This “lazy, effeminate, indolent” man, “world-spoiled, reckless in everything, egotist”

had no time or space for thought; he never thought; would not have thought seriously, for a kingdom. A novel, idly skimmed over in bed, was the extent of his literature; he never bored himself by reading the papers, he heard the news earlier than they told it; and as he lived, he was too constantly supplied from the world about him with amusement and variety to have to do anything beyond letting himself be amused; quietly fanned, as it were, with the lulling punka of social pleasure, without even the trouble of pulling the strings. He had naturally considerable talents, and an almost dangerous facility in them; but he might have been as brainless as a mollusk, for any exertion he gave his brain (Under Two Flags, ch. 7).

7Ouida is deliberately misleading in concealing a redemption which, unknown to the protagonist himself, looms large under the guise of apparently aimless, desultory acts of spontaneous kindness (he generously pays his brother’s debts). In the meantime Forest King, Bertie’s horse, doomed to play an important role, is humanised by a writer who adored animals, and in a subsequent novel – Puck – told the life of a sentient dog:

Forest King champed his bit between his teeth a little; it tasted bitter; he tossed his head and licked it with his tongue impatiently; the taste had got down his throat and he did not like its flavour; he turned his deep, lustrous eyes with a gentle patience on the crowd about him, as though asking them what was the matter with him. No one moved his bit; the only person who could have had such authority was busily giving the last polish to his coat with a fine handkerchief — that glossy neck which had been so dusted many a time with the cobweb coronet-broidered handkerchiefs of great ladies — and his instincts, glorious as they were, were not wise enough to tell him to kick his head groom down, then and there, with one mortal blow, as his poisoner and betrayer. The King chafed under the taste of that “painted quid”; he felt a nausea as he swallowed, and he turned his handsome head with a strange, pathetic astonishment in his glance. At that moment a familiar hand stroked his mane, a familiar foot was put into his stirrup, Bertie threw himself into saddle; the lightest weight that ever gentleman-rider rode, despite his six-foot length of limb. The King, at the well-known touch, the well-loved voice, pricked his delicate ears, quivered in all his frame with eager excitation, snuffed the air restlessly through his distended nostrils, and felt every vein under his satin skin thrill and swell with pleasure; he was all impatience, all power, all longing, vivid intensity of life. If only that nausea would go! He felt a restless sickliness stealing on him that his young and gallant strength had never known since he was foaled. But it was not in the King to yield to a little; he flung his head up, champing angrily at the bit, then walked down to the starting-post with his old calm, collected grace; and Cecil, looking at the glossy bow of the neck, and feeling the width of the magnificent ribs beneath him, stooped from his saddle a second as he rode out of the inclosure and bent to the Seraph (Under Two Flags, ch. 9).

8The Derby Cecil wins on Forest King is the object of a usually impressionistic, flashy, excited description. Yet misfortune is impending. Bertie is hated by his father, as he is the living memory of at least a mental betrayal by his dead wife, and bears the name of that lover, a soldier fallen in India. A meteoric villain acts behind the scenes, and when the horse-racing party moves to Baden – a place where several episodes of Thackeray’s novels and some of his youthful sketches are set – Bertie loses the Derby there because Forest King has been drugged. And, in an obscure den, a Jewish moneylender – a fixture of contemporary fiction, whose name is Baroni, the same as a character in Disraeli’s Contarini Fleming – accuses him of faking a bill. Bertie is unable to provide an alibi and a defence. The reader will be later informed that Bertie’s silence is only due to his spirit of sacrifice and to his willingness to cover his brother’s misdeeds. Feeling the cold of the handcuffs, and the shame of being arrested, Bertie manages to escape on his way to prison and to begin a new life. It is the only, exceptional, proof of activism on the part of a character from then on possessed by a strange, mysterious, unforeseen passivity and fatalism, and by a determined willingness to efface himself and his identity.

9The title of the novel, at first enigmatic, begins to justify its relevance from the moment when the penniless Bertie weighs the eventuality of his enrolment as a mercenary on behalf of the liberation of an oppressed people, and even thinks of joining Garibaldi’s I mille. If the first part may be subtitled “pride”, the second is “redemption” or “expiation”; but there is also in preparation a third, “restoration” or “rehabilitation”. Ouida recurs to a frequently exploited pattern in Victorian fiction – the repentant hedonist and the self-immolating egoist, with maybe a backward look at Dickens’s Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Since Rake the valet is the actual saviour of Bertie – who one day saved Rake’s life – master and servant are bound to form a couple of exiles; the valet protests his fealty and the intelligent horse, healed from his attempted poisoning, can do no less, and the couple temporarily becomes a trio.

10As in melodrama, the second volume of Under Two Flags opens with an abrupt change of scene and with an ample timeshift. In England, Cecil is given up for dead in a train crash near Marseilles, but the reader is informed that Bertie Cecil – disguised as Victor, the Corporal serving in the French Foreign Legion which keeps in check the Algerian Bedouin guerrillas – is undergoing his spiritual renascence. Stylistically, the transition from the first to the second volume is also very marked. In the first the pace is slack and dilatory, mainly because the author rhetorically enlarges, and makes the most of, the few facts she has at her disposal. Technically, Ouida is always an omniscient narrator able to shift her visual angle from scene to scene. At the time of writing Under Two Flags she had not yet set foot out of England, and the German sections are of course guesswork, and their local and topical features left vague. Even more generic, stylised, improbable, devoid of any optical definition and realistic verisimilitude are the Algerian landscapes. Genius loci is entirely lacking. Nevertheless, if in the first part Ouida’s model is the Disraelian and Thackerayan silver fork of the spineless officers freely enjoying life and wallowing in vice, in the second the novel enters the territory of the sensational and the exotic. Bertie fleeing from Baden, intent on wiping out every trace of himself, creates, or more exactly recreates, the figure of the “living dead” which keeps appearing in the Victorian sensational fiction of Collins and Mrs. Wood, in whose East Lynne the female protagonist is unmasked after having been likewise taken for dead in a train accident, and having lived long under an assumed identity.

11Under Two Flags is the only major Victorian novel set in Africa and in French Algeria – an Algeria, as we have said, largely imaginary, not described from direct experience. Bertie enrols and becomes a corporal a few years before the French defeat by the Prussians, with the local Arabs kept down by French forces of mercenaries and convicts tortured by the African heat and struck down by malaria, and whose worst enemy, more than all else, is ennui. Bertie serves under two or perhaps three flags: as an Englishman he is loyal to his country, in those days uninvolved in a war with France; yet he is a soldier of the French army, while his pacifism induces him to sympathize with the Arabs.

  • 8  I think it highly probable that Ouida – an opera-lover ­- should deliberately allude to Donizetti’ (...)

12In the African context, the novel drags itself along owing to the tameness of the locals and the absence of any mental progress in the protagonist. It is only vivified by the verbal and factual exploits of one of the most memorable creations of this novelist, the masculine, orphan, frank, cigarette-smoking vivandière of the regiment8:

She was very pretty, audaciously pretty, though her skin was burned to a bright sunny brown, and her hair was cut as short as a boy’s, and her face had not one regular feature in it. But then—regularity! who wanted it, who would have thought the most pure classic type a change for the better, with those dark, dancing, challenging eyes; with that arch, brilliant, kitten-like face, so sunny, so mignon, and those scarlet lips like a bud of camellia that were never so handsome as when a cigarette was between them, or sooth to say, not seldom a short pipe itself? She was pretty, she was insolent, she was intolerably coquettish, she was mischievous as a marmoset; she would swear, if need be, like a Zouave; she could fire galloping, she could toss off her brandy or her vermouth like a trooper; she would on occasion clinch her little brown hand and deal a blow that the recipient would not covet twice; she was an enfant de Paris and had all its wickedness at her fingers; she would sing you guinguette songs till you were suffocated with laughter, and she would dance the cancan at the Salle de Mars, with the biggest giant of a Cuirassier there. And yet with all that, she was not wholly unsexed; with all that she had the delicious fragrance of youth, and had not left a certain feminine grace behind her, though she wore a vivandière’s uniform, and had been born in a barrack, and meant to die in a battle; it was the blending of the two that made her piquante, made her a notoriety in her own way; known at pleasure, and equally, in the Army of Africa, as “Cigarette,” and “L’Amie du Drapeau” (Under Two Flags, ch. 15).

13Such enfantes sauvages, stemming from the philosophy of Rousseau, would be attempted by English poetry a few years later, and the seductions of the wild, undeveloped, masculine-feminine beauty of Cigarette are the same found in Browning’s Fifine in a difficult, dialogic poem – Fifine at the Fair – which appeared in 1872. The gamine fascinates Bertie with a feminine appeal that reverses the accustomed codes of female beauty; she in turn covets the mysterious and brooding officer who refrains from any predatory instinct and performs in her favour exquisite deeds of generosity. Bertie, the French mercenary in Algeria, also opens a discourse on the theme of exile, and prophetically looks forward to Ouida’s own imminent choice of a virtual change of identity: he feels disinherited and displaced as Ouida would a few years after; he hears many nationalities attributed to him, but senses he is loyal to none. Masked, and under a false name, in this exceptional condition he is able to relativise all his national prejudices, no less than his sense of class. The brilliant Bertie, having erased the seamy side of his life, now experiences the sufferings and the humiliations of everyday living:

From the extremes of luxury, indolence, indulgence, pleasure, and extravagance, Cecil came to the extremes of hardship, poverty, discipline, suffering, and toil. From a life where every sense was gratified, he came to a life where every privation was endured. He had led the fashion; he came where he had to bear without a word the curses, oaths, and insults of a corporal or a sous-lieutenant. He had been used to every delicacy and delight; he came where he had to take the coarse black bread of the army as a rich repast. He had thought it too much trouble to murmur flatteries in great ladies’ ears; he came where morning, noon, and night the inexorable demands of rigid rules compelled his incessant obedience, vigilance, activity, and self-denial. He had known nothing from his childhood up except an atmosphere of amusement, refinement, brilliancy, and idleness; he came where gnawing hunger, brutalized jest, ceaseless toil, coarse obscenity, agonized pain, and pandemonaic mirth alternately filled the measure of the days. A sharper contrast, a darker ordeal, rarely tried the steel of any man’s endurance. No Spartan could have borne the change more mutely, more staunchly than did the “dandy of the Household” (Under Two Flags, ch. 18).

14In his African calvary, necessary to restore to England an example of true valour, Bertie is the ideal brother of Mrs. Gaskell’s Hepburn in Sylvia’s Lovers, both representing the successful tempering of the cowardly, nerveless hero facing a test.

  • 9  This analogy is frequently pointed out throughout the novel.

15Cigarette – a name Stevenson would strangely reuse for his male partner in his French travel diary – is androgynous or “unsexed”, as Ouida often calls her. Against this classification she instinctively reacts and rebels. She cannot really de-sex herself, and her sexuality inevitably comes to the surface – as it often does in Victorian novels – without her being conscious of it, that is by openly hating the man she secretly loves, or by being jealous of him – her words and her fiery declarations are at variance with her unknown instincts. She is described as pure and indomitable instinct, and that is why this slender, nervous, hermaphroditic brat, fatherless and motherless, works miracles, and in a risky war is the condottiera, like Jeanne d’Arc in her times9.

16Under Two Flags ends optimistically, and in keeping with poetic justice. We feel it inevitable that the “Bertie that was”, an incognito corporal in the French Legion, should become a soldier for the only flag that counts, and be above all reinstated in his highly deserved role as an English gentleman. Yet he strenuously resists this reinstatement when he casually learns from an English newspaper that his father is dead and that he has become heir to the family property. Cecil is only a few removes away from becoming one of those Victorian protagonists – Dickens’s Harmon in Our Mutual Friend above all others – who face the dilemma: should I come back to life, should I resume my previous identity? His indecision does not concern the actual maturation of a Bella Wilfer, but rather his right to inherit a title he may have atoned enough to possess. His remains an even masochistic expiation, since he has committed no sin, and does nothing to prove that this is so: “Either you are the greatest madman, or the most generous man that ever lived. You choose to guard your own secret; I will not seek to persuade it from you. But tell me one thing – why do you thus abjure your rights, permit a false charge to rest on you, and consign yourself forever to this cruel agony?”.

  • 10  Another Disraelian reminiscence, this being the name of the female protagonist of the novel Veneti (...)

17The epilogue is set in motion by a coincidence that frequently intervenes in serial and sensational fiction. Countess Venetia Corona10, with whom the false corporal Victor has desperately fallen in love, braves the danger in the African desert to see warfare with her own eyes, accompanied by Bertie’s brother. Bertie is sure that his brother has recognized him, and feels willing to cede him his right to the family inheritance: he will stoically remain his “dead brother”. Cigarette guesses, with all her instinct, that the English noblewoman is about to rob her of her secret lover and faces the countess in a scene rife with melodramatic effects. Bertie himself fails to bide by his renunciation at the end: “She watched him many minutes, he unconscious of her gaze; and while she did so, many conflicting emotions passed over the colourless delicacy of her features; her eyes were filled and shadowed with many altering thoughts; her heart was waking from its rest, and the high, generous, unselfish nature in her strove with her pride of birth, her dignity of habit”.

18Right at the moment when Bertie is about to be executed for having offended a superior, Cigarette steps in once again as the supreme deus ex machina.Ouida not only bows to French patriotism and to patriotism as such, but gives high praise to the gentlemanly code of honour. The Arabs too share this praise when, having captured Cigarette, they hear her prayer with pity: “ ‘Maiden,’ he said gently, ‘we are Arabs, but we are not brutes’ ”. Their leader sets her free and even puts at her disposal a fresh horse. In this episode Cigarette’s always repressed and unconscious sexuality comes to the fore and is revealed at least to the spectators:

“I surrender,” she said briefly; she had never thought to say these words of submission to her scorned foes; she would not have been brought to utter them to spare her own existence. Their answer was a yell of furious delight, and their bare blades smote each other with a clash of brutal joy. They had her, the Frankish child who had brought shame and destruction on them at Zaraila, and they longed to draw their steel across the fair young throat, to plunge their lances into the bright, bare bosom, to twine her hair round their spear handles, to rend her delicate limbs apart, as a tiger rends the antelope, to torture, to outrage, to wreak their vengeance on her (Under Two Flags, ch. 36).

19Cigarette’s sacrifice is a staple of melodrama: she dies for a man she loves, unloved, conscious that he is destined for another woman more worthy of him according to social prejudice. Having long cherished, and suggested as possible, the romance of classless love, the novel closes on the solid reality of an aristocrat matured by experience, and by sufferance made responsible, and ready again to serve his country. As in melodramas Cigarette, shot dead by the firing squad while shielding the body of the man she could not have, sings her devotion to Bertie much longer than her agony might realistically last.

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Bigland Eileen, Ouida: The Passionate Victorian, London: Jarrolds, 1950.

Blom Eric, Music in England, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1942.

Chesterton G. K., The Victorian Age in Literature, London: Williams & Norgate, 1914.

Dobrée Bonamy, “Ouida”, in Milton to Ouida: A Collection of Essays, London: Cass, 1970, 193-198.

Elwin Malcolm, Victorian Wallflowers, London: Cape, 1934.

Forbes Elizabeth, Mario and Grisi: A Biography, London: Gollancz, 1985.

Freeman James C., “Whyte-Melville and Galsworthy’s Bright Beings”, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, V, 1950, 85-100.

Garrison Dee, “Immoral Fiction in the Late Victorian Library”, American Quarterly, XXVIII, 1976, 71-89.

Harper Kenneth E. & Bradford A. Booth, “Russian Translations of Nineteenth-Century English Fiction”, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, VIII (3), 1953, 188-197. Image1

Mews Siegfried, “Sensationalism and Sentimentality: Minor Victorian Prose Writers in Germany”, Modern Language Notes, LXXXIV (1969), 776-788.

Ouida [Marie Louise de la ramée], Under two Flags; a Story of the Household and the Desert, 3 vols., London, 1867.

Praz Mario, “Ouida”, in Studi e svaghi inglesi, Milan: Garzanti, 1983, vol. I, 241-244.

Shaffer Talia, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England, Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2000.

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1  Siegfried Mews, “Sensationalism and Sentimentality: Minor Victorian Prose Writers in Germany”, Modern Language Notes, LXXXIV, 1969, 783.

2  G. K. Chesterton, however, mentions her (The Victorian Age in Literature, London: Williams & Norgate, 1914, 117) in the same breath as Mrs. Oliphant.

3  For Ouida’s influence on and by James, see Adeline R. Tintner, The Cosmopolitan World of Henry James, Tuscaloosa: Louisiana University Press, 1991.

4  Cf. Talia Shaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England, Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2000, who also attributes to her an “epigrammatic style” similar to Wilde’s!

5  Dee Garrison, “Immoral Fiction in the Late Victorian Library”, American Quarterly, XXVIII, 1976, 74.

6 Ibid., 86.

7 More plausibly, as I shall argue, Bertie may be associated with the type of the “effeminate dandy”. See James C. Freeman, “Whyte-Melville and Galsworthy’s Bright Beings”, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, V, 1950, 99.

8  I think it highly probable that Ouida – an opera-lover ­- should deliberately allude to Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, an epithet she uses for Cigarette. This comic opera was popular during the 1840s, when it was composed and first performed; but it ends with the discovery of Marie’s noble birth, unlike in Ouida’s novel.  

9  This analogy is frequently pointed out throughout the novel.

10  Another Disraelian reminiscence, this being the name of the female protagonist of the novel Venetia by Disraeli. S. Mews (op. cit., 787), emphasizes Ouida’s sympathy with Cigarette’s democraticism, as opposed to Corona’s “supercilious condescension”.

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Franco Marucci, « Ouida: the Fascination of Moral Laxity »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VII – n°3 | 2009, 593-604.

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Franco Marucci, « Ouida: the Fascination of Moral Laxity »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VII – n°3 | 2009, mis en ligne le 25 mai 2009, consulté le 24 octobre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Franco Marucci

Professor, (Venice, Italy)
Franco Marucci, born in 1949, began academic work in 1974 at the University of Siena as Assistant and Associate Professor; since 1987, he has been a Professor of English at the University of Venice “Ca’ Foscari”. He is a member of the Editorial Boards of “Rivista di Studi Vittoriani”, “Hopkins Quarterly”, “The Pater Newsletter”, and “ES. Revista de Filologìa Inglesa”. He is also the editor of the series “Le Bricole” published by Cafoscarina (Venice). His main publications include Il senso interrotto. Autonomia e codificazione nella poesia di Dylan Thomas (Ravenna, 1976), Gerard Manley Hopkins. Il silenzio e la parola (Pisa, 1977), I fogli della Sibilla. Retorica e medievalismo in Gerard Manley Hopkins (Firenze-Messina, 1981), Il Vittorianesimo (Bologna, 1991), The Fine Delight that Fathers Thought: Rhetoric and Medievalism in Gerard Manley Hopkins (Washington, 1994). He is currently writing Storia della letteratura inglese in six volumes, of which the third (From 1832 to 1870, in two parts, Il saggismo e la poesia, and Il romanzo [Florence, 2003]) and the fourth (From 1870 to 1921 [Florence, 2006]), have been published. The fifth, from 1921 to the present, is due out in 2010.

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