Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): an Encounter with Italy 3

Corinne title page of 1st edition
Corinne title page of 1st edition
consuelo 1842 title page 2
consuelo 1842 title page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This and the previous two blog posts were originally published as  “The origins of Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): the  combination novel, myths of the female artist and the commerce of art.” In: Anglistica Pisana. 6.1 (2009) Edizioni ETS, Pisa, Italy, pp. 77-85. ISBN 9788846725967. Please see the first post on the purely visual additions. 

Corinne, as is well known, was “one of the most important documents in the growth of the English Romantic image of Italy” and the favourite guidebook to Italy of the first half of the nineteenth century.[1] Following the pioneering efforts of Ellen Moers in the 1970s, more recent work has reminded us that it offered a way for women to discuss aesthetic matters not only by generating a new myth of a woman artist, but also by providing a transgeneric model in which novel, tourist guide, autobiography and aesthetic tract all intersect.[2] Sand’s Consuelo has been less studied until recently, but was equally influential, offering an alternative model for the female artist as the divinely inspired “sophia” as opposed to the self-expressing, “political sybil” of Corinne.[3] Like the de Staël, Consuelo offers a nationally hybrid, displaced, orphan heroine with traits derived not only from Sand herself but also from Sand’s friend, the operatic diva Pauline Viardot-Garcia; in terms of genre, it is as hybrid as Corinne, mixing gothic, political, religious and aesthetic tract with silver fork (the guide-book element, while present, is much less visible than in Corinne).

Pascarèl follows these texts not only in its transgeneric nature but also in plot elements. Ouida teases us by seeding expectations of Consuelo early on. The donzellina’s singing, references to the opera suggest Sand’s heroine just as ’Ino’s Venetian origins, physical appearance, relationship to the heroine, the way he appears substantially at the beginning, appears to be forgotten by the plot but then returns towards the end as the catalyst for the eventually union of the lovers, links him to Consuelo’s childhood love Anzoleto. Just as Consuelo has an aged and embittered music teacher in Porpora, so does the donzellina in Ambrogio Rufi.

At the point where the heroine recognises Pascarèl, however Corinne is introduced. Just as de Staël’s Lord Nelvil falls in love with a Corinne idolised by the people and learns her name when it is shouted by them, so the donzellina learns the potency of Pascarèl’s name when it is acclaimed by the crowd. Both of course, figure the artist’s ideal audience, but Ouida reverses de Staël’s gendering by making a man’s name allow the heroine to speak. If later Pascarèl speaks in his own voice, he can do so only when he has lost the donzellina: she does not bestow identity upon him. The donzellina may abandon her singing like Consuelo, but unlike in the Sand, the role of artist is decisively taken over by Pascarèl. In place of de Staël’s female improvisatrice who lectures her beloved but rather stupid Lord Nelvil and takes him on a tour of Rome and Naples, Ouida offers a male improvisatore who lectures his beloved donzellina and takes her on a tour of places the English had “discovered” in northern Italy in the 1820s and after. Corinne is masculinized as Pascarel. Insofar as Pascarèl takes on board conventional paradigms of Gothic Italy,[4] then, it does not seek to reconfigure them to present Italy as a figure for a proto-feminist lost matria as Barrett Browning had done. Instead, Ouida energetically puts the lost father at the centre: twenty years older than the heroine, there is never any question that Pascarèl is caringly paternal, the antithesis of the heroine’s (and Ouida’s) biological father.

If Ouida’s Corinne is rewritten as Pascarel then, Consuelo is the donzellina. Consuelo is a female Orpheus who leads her beloved out of the caverns (literal and metaphorical) of his solipsistic madness so that he may be reborn (eventually) as a member of a Saint-Simonian secret society. This is the donzellina’s function: she enables Pascarel to achieve his rightful place in society as social activist.

The national hybridity of the heroine refers to both Consuelo and Corinne. Pamela Gilbert remarked that “racial /cultural hybridity both grants [Ouida’s heroines] more freedom to act, and dooms them as tragic characters for whom no narrative is ultimately possible in the normative social world into which other characters must be integrated”.[5] This is as true of Corinne as it is of those heroines of Ouida that Pamela Gilbert discusses (Folle Farine and Cigarette of Under Two Flags). De Staël indeed was pessimistic about women’s place in the arts, commenting in an essay that the position of the woman genius was ineluctably that of an exile to society.[6] But in mass-market narrative and at the other end of the cultural continuum, Elizabeth Barrett Browning with her decidedly restricted-market Aurora Leigh, a tragic outcome for hybrid women was by no means the only option.[7] Likewise, the donzellina ends her story in the embrace of her beloved and “the paradise of LOVE” (Pascarèl, III: 356).

Essential to this journey towards paradise is, however, the abandonment of the self for both hero and heroine. Pascarèl has to give up the Bohemian life he loves in favour of dedicating his art and his life to social improvement. Having witnessed such selflessness, the donzellina also gives up her new-found wealth and wilfully reduces herself to being “nothing”. While the text emphasises that he has nothing while she is nothing, a balance between them rich in ethical questions for feminism (Pascarèl, III: 349, 354), the real point is that both abandon their possessions and desires to become selfless. Now while de Staël had believed that it was the duty of women to be selfless, for Sand self-sacrifice was a duty for both sexes. She had ended La comtesse de Rudolstadt (1845), the continuation to Consuelo, with the heroine, having given up singing and joined her husband’s secret society in a paradise garden, an analogue of Ouida’s “City of Lilies”. But importantly, in the Sand, the heroine’s beloved Albert has sacrificed everything as well. Pascarèl has in the end preferred Sand’s call for both men and women to give up personal ambitions – Satan’s poisoned arrow ‑ and instead perform their “duty” (Pascarel’s last point in his political speech), It is only then that they truly enter the terrestrial paradise of Florence (an echo of the Comtesse de Rudolstadt finale in a paradise garden).

 

Pascarel, Chapman and Hall 1873, vol 3 p. 355
Pascarel, Chapman and Hall 1873, vol 3 p. 355
pascale chapman and hall 1873 vol 3 p. 356
Pascarel, Chapman and Hall 1873, vol 3 p. 356

 

This seems a disingenuous conclusion, that the gorgeous envoi (like Sand’s precursor) seeks to conceal: after all, it is Pascarèl who ends as the public social actor and the donzellina merely his support. If one is also reminded of the similar situation at the end of Pascarèl’s contemporary, Middlemarch, Ouida’s regendering of Corinne needs to be seen in a different and specific commercial context. When Corinne was presented as a metonym for Italy it was playing into the Gothic vogue for presenting women in this way. By the early 1870s, however, Italy had came to be figured in Britain as a gentlemanly military hero of the Garibaldi mould.[8] Ouida’s combination and partial regendering of two key female kunstlerromanen can be viewed, thus, as an attempt to meet the demands of the early 1870s British culture industry. She was also, of course, publishing the story in an Italian periodical where political articles were generated by the pens of men. But Ouida’s masculine image of an Italian unity achieved through male artists is contradicted both by the donzellina’s narration of most of the novel and by Ouida’s own signature upon it. In the end, women mediate and so control both the narrative and its politics in a very marked way. What is interesting is that the Nuova Antologia seems to have felt threatened by this, removing the most flagrant declaration of female agency over the narrative act by deleting the entirety of the last section of chapter 2, where the donzellina so shockingly bursts through as a speaking subject in her own right. Its very amputation seems a sign that it was aware that while men may be shown as the public faces of art, women were contesting that. This is tension that Ouida does not explore until Ariadne four years later

That Pascarèl is only the first of several novels to discuss the nature and role of art suggests that its composition made Ouida conscious of problems that she needed to work through. The promotion of nationalist politics she regards as a duty here, like her gendering of the artist, did not remain unchallenged, indeed. In a diary entry for 29 April 1887, Lady Paget would write that Ouida now hated Italy ‑ “which seems extraordinary after Pascarèl and Ariadne”. [9] In 1878, Ouida had started to write protest material for the Whitehall Review and, the following year, a stream of letters to the Times. By the time of A Village Commune (1881), she was denouncing the modern Italian state so ferociously that, along with her letters to the Times, it caused her to be banished from the Italian royal court. While deplored as inaccurate in some quarters, Ruskin recommended it as ‘photographic’ in its veracity. It was immediately translated into Italian – unauthorised –with a preface declaring it so important that all Italians should read it.[10] By this stage, the woman artist for Ouida was a social activist. She had herself become a Pascarèl. If in the result of her first encounter with Italy she did not yet pursue her politics with as little recourse to economic self-interest as she later would, we nonetheless see there how, paradoxically,  the exploitation of commercial combination opened up the possibility for the first time.

Pascarel, Tauchnitz, 1873 frontispiece and title page
Pascarel, Tauchnitz, 1873 frontispiece and title page

 


[1] Kenneth Churchill, Italy and English Literature 1764-1930, London: Macmillan, 1980, p. 24.

[2] Ellen Moers, Literary Women (The Women’s Press, 1976), pp. 173-210. On Corinne’s hybridity, see Maddalena Pennachia Punzi, Il mito do Corinne: Viaggio in Italia e genio femminile in Anna Jameson, Margaret Fuller and George Eliot, Roma: Carocci, 2001, p. 11.

[3] On this binarism, see Linda M. Lewis, Germaine de Staël, George Sand, and the Victorian Woman Artist, University of Missouri Press, 2003. For a useful related analysis of the female kunstlerroman, see Kari Lokke, Tracing Women’s Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence (Routledge, 2004).

[4] Churchill, op. cit., p. 66.

[5] Pamela Gilbert, ‘Ouida and the other New Woman’, Victorian Women Writers and the Woman Question, ed. Nicola Diane Thompson (CUP, 1999), pp. 170-188, p. 173.

[6] See Punzi, op. cit., pp. 16-17.

[7] For key role quadroon women play in mass-market fiction of the 1850s, see Andrew King, The London Journal: Periodicals, Production and Gender (Ashgate, 2004), pp. 203-4.

[8]“Liberty, Equality and Sorority: women’s representations of the Unification of Italy”, Unfolding the South: Nineteenth-century British Women Writers and Artists in Italy, ed. Alison Chapman and Jane Stabler (Manchester University Press, 2003), pp.110-136; Maura O’Connor, The Romance of Italy and the English Imagination (Macmillan, 1998), ch. 5.

[9] Walburga, Lady Paget, The Linings of Life, (Hurst and Blackett, 1928), 2 vols, II, p. 426.

[10] Ruskin, Art of England, 1883, quoted in Lee, op. cit., p. 110. Un Comune rurale in Italia. Racconto di Ouida, trans. by Sofia Fortini-Santarelli (G. Barbera, 1881). This precedes the better-known version by Isabella Ada Spinelli, Il tiranno del villaggio : Delizie dell’Italia rigenerata (Tip. Degli Artigianelli, 1890), based on an earlier French translation, Le Tyran du village, moeurs de l’Italie régénérée, trans by Victor Derély (A. Mame et fils), 1886.

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Andrew King

Andrew King is Professor of English Literature and Literary Studies at the University of Greenwich. He has always been interested in how and why certain texts are kept for posterity and others disappear. His first degree was in classical and medieval Latin, and he has MAs in Medieval Studies and English. He completed his PhD in English at Birkbeck, supervised by Laurel Brake. He taught for many years at Universities overseas, though immediately before he came to Greenwich in May 2012, taught at Canterbury Christ Church University. His official profile can be found at http://www2.gre.ac.uk/about/schools/humanities/about/departments/cca/staff/andrew-king.

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