Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): an Encounter with Italy 1

The following three 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.

Since that volume is out of print, I reproduce it her with the kind permission of Giovanni Campolo of Edizioni ETS.

I have added my translations of passages in Italian and also a few images not in the original version from a beautiful version of the 1873 2 volume Tauchnitz  edition. This is bound in white paper with red and gold stampings, illustrated with actual photographs  cut and pasted onto appropriate additional pages. My copy (of only volume 1) has been bound by Giulio Giannini whose business was at the Piazza Pitti in Florence. They are still one of the foremost book binders in Florence (see http://www.giuliogiannini.com/). The date is not given, though there is a dated owner’s signature on the inside – S.M. Schieffelin, 1890. I have also added a few images from the Nuova Antologia,  and, in later  posts, from editions of Corinne and Consuelo  Apart from those visual additions and a bit of colour in the text to help orientate the reader on the screen,  the text is the same as published. 

bound version of 1873 Tauchnitz edition of Pascarel
bound version of 1873 Tauchnitz edition of Pascarel

In musing over the villas of Florence in her Scenes and Memories (Smith, Elder, 1912), Ouida’s friend Walburga, Lady Paget finally comes to the Villa Farinola, where Ouida lived between 1874 and 1888.

 Ouida was certainly a genius; she had a power of language, a love of nature, and, above all, a flair for couleur locale almost unequalled. If you consider that she wrote Pascarel when she had been but three weeks in Italy, you must confess that the achievement is second only to Byron’s lines on the Dying Gladiator, after having seen it for the first time. (pp. 321-2).

Two of Ouida’s biographers go so far as to take the travels and feelings of Pascarel’s heroine as a straightforward transcription of Ouida’s own. [1] This article queries Lady Paget’s hyperbole and asks what Ouida’s first encounter with Italy actually meant. I suggest that it was a new audience and new source material that led her to compose what the Athenaeum recognised as a fresh development in her oeuvre “far in advance of [her] earlier novels”[2]

Soon after its publication in triple-decker form by Chapman & Hall in early 1873, Pascarèl was brought out in a single volume by Lippincott’s in America and in two-volume form by Tauchnitz in Leipzig (Ouida had had a business relationship with these firms since 1865 and 1867 respectively). Such transnational distribution is to be expected for a writer best known for her part in forwarding the popular culture industry: there is nothing new here.

pascarel in nuova antologia
Pascarello, in Nuova Antologia April 1873, vol 22, p. 812

What was novel for Ouida was that Pascarèl was quickly translated into Italian and serialised in the Nuova Antologia.[3] This latter had been started in 1866 by Francesco Protonotari to mark the spiritual and cultural life of the newly emergent Italian nation now that the capital was in Florence. It promoted a new form of writing

con un immediato senso della realtà attuale, con una scioltezza vivace che attraessero il pubblico alla lettura e rendessero possible la trattazione chiara e piacevole di qualsiasi argomento.[4]

[with an immediate sense of current reality, with a lively fluency which would attract the public to reading and render possible the clear and pleasing treatment of every kind of theme]

One of its many interesting features is the role of the woman writer in it: its Indice per autori shows how women were, on the whole, confined to contributing fiction, suggesting a strongly gendered vision of writing in which women had to be contained. As a fiction writer, Ouida fitted in.

But it is also significant that Protonotari must have understood Pascarèl to fit his nationalist agenda and its popular and “immediate sense of current reality”. The nature of Ouida’s arrangements with Protonotari are not clear, though given the speed with which the translation appeared, one can imagine that she had been negotiating with him for some time. It is probable therefore she wrote the novel with one eye on the Italian market and the other on her established Anglophone one. Perhaps Protonotari had urged her to address the issue of national unity early on in the novel’s composition, or she herself realised what its readers wanted. Either would explain why she changed direction and started to think about the social utility of her art. What is clear is that Ouida, for the first time, was understood to have written a novel suitable for a periodical with a specific social programme: Pascarèl is a novel with a political and social agenda.

I want to fit Pascarèl into a story of Ouida’s overall literary development that queries the usual riches to rags narrative of a pathetic grotesque. During her time in Italy Ouida gradually turned towards non-fictional interventions in high-status British and American periodicals. After 1899, however, Ouida published very little at all, though she continued to write politically opinionated letters to her acquaintances along with a handful of political poems. A few of the latter appeared in The Times; others, considered too libellous for print, remained in manuscript form, circulating only amongst her network of correspondents. The poems – when they have been mentioned at all – have uniformly been taken as examples of how little Ouida knew of real political process.[5] Whatever their degree of political sophistication, they demonstrate Ouida’s commitment, at this last stage of her writing career, to art as a political intervention beyond economic exchange. Believing in the paternalist idea that genius had very definite duties to society, Ouida now was using poetry and correspondence, both public and private, as the least commercially profitable modes of writing in order to make political statements, locating her art beyond exchange value into pure, if necessarily limited, utility.

Ouida’s aesthetic trajectory to this point was not straightforward or linear. Yet her move from the purely commercial can be located best in a handful of works from the 1870s set in Italy. Central to all of them is the status of art and artists: Signa (1875), In a Winter City (1876), Ariadne (1877) and Friendship (1878) all deal with the relation of various arts to the market and, more generally, the place and function of art in society. Pascarèl (1873) initiates this series.

In Ouida’s work from the 1860s, the idea that “art” and “genius” might have an ethical or social role had been portrayed as ridiculous. The odd reference to them in Under Two Flags (1866) reduces their social utility to the teaching of etiquette for profit or the making of figurines in imitation of one’s fellows to supplement a meagre income, a metonym for commercial stories that follow formulae already tested in the market. Art is commercially imitative and combinatory. Folle-Farine (1871) portrays the artist as so egotistical as to be heedless of the sacrifices made for him:

He was not cruel. To animals he was humane, to women gentle, to men serene; but his art was before all things with him, and with humanity he had little sympathy. (Folle-Farine, Chatto and Windus reissue, 1883, p. 219).

What the artwork and the artist do is not clear except bring financial reward and fame. The eponymous heroine sells her body so that her beloved sculptor can become famous, but she views what he does in the haziest terms:

This art, which could call life from the dry wastes of wood and paper, and shed perpetual light where all was darkness, was ever to her an alchemy incomprehensible, immeasurable; a thing not to be criticised or questioned, but adored in all its inscrutable and majestic mystery. (Folle-Farine, p. 298).

Tricotrin, the artist hero of Ouida’s next novel, ensures “Art” is kept as his “handmaiden” not his “mistress” by choosing a wandering life of minstrelsy (Tricotrin, 1871, I, p.64). Art generates “treasure” for its possessors (II, p. 357), offers delights both spiritual and sensuous, but is also a place where the artist can “vent” his emotion (I, p. 248), a quiet remove from the tumult of the world, a “tuft of rushes” (II, p. 380). Such “expressive” art is beyond price, of course. There may be a faint echo of Shelley’s notion of the poet – “A statesman rules ay, for a lifetime; but it is only the poet whose sceptre stretches over generations unborn.” (II, p. 438) – but this seems just another aphorism of the kind that Ouida frequently puts in the mouths of conversationally combative characters. Described in utterly conventional ways, the role of art is never seriously debated in Tricotrin. Art is a source of firstly income and secondarily glory in these early works, mirroring Ouida’s own position as a worker in the commercial culture industry.

That Pascarèl was written to sell like its predecessors is beyond doubt. Ouida was not yet at the stage where she was a producer of a pure art for society’s sake. However, it is also the case that, along with her new politically-conscious Italian market, the established sales-generating technique Pascarèl employed – its reworking of well-known narratives in the fashion of a “combination novel”[6] ‑ that opened the way for a more thorough-going questioning of the role of art in society than Ouida had previously essayed.

[1] Yvonne ffrench, Ouida: A Study in Ostentation (Cobden-Sanderson, 1938), p. 81 and Monica Stirling, The Fine and the Wicked: the Life and Times of Ouida, (Gollancz, 1957), pp. 47-8.

[2] Athenaeum, no 2370, March 29 1873, p. 405.

[3] trans. as Pascarello, in Nuova Antologia 1873 April – September, vol 22, fasc. 4, pp. 812-861; vol. 23, pp. 101-147; 400-456; 588-635; 817-881; vol. 24, pp. 61-117. No translater is given.

[4] Indice per autori e per materie della Nuova Antologia dal 1866-1930, a cura di Ludovico Barbieri, La Nuova Antologia, Roma, 1934: xii.

[5] See Elisabeth Lee, Ouida: a Memoir, Fischer Unwin, 1914, pp. 183-5; Eileen Bigland, Ouida, The Passionate Victorian (Jarrold’s, 1950), p. 236. See also ffrench, , op. cit., pp. 159-60 and Stirling, , op. cit., p. 204.

[6] A coinage of Mary Braddon’s in her 1863 serial The Doctor’s Wife: “The combination novel enables a young author to present his public with all the brightest flowers of fiction neatly arranged into every variety of garland. I’m doing a combination novel now – the Heart of Midlothian and the Wandering Jew…” (quoted from Andrew King and John Plunkett, Victorian Print Media (OUP, 2005), p. 310).