Annotated edition of Ouida’s Two Little Wooden Shoes Chapter 1.1

Ouida

TWO LITTLE WOODEN SHOES

Chapman and Hall, 193 Piccadilly, 1874

 

CHAPTER I.

Bebee sprang out of bed at daybreak. She was sixteen.

It seemed a very wonderful thing to be as much as that — sixteen — a woman quite.

A cock was crowing under her lattice — he said how old you are! — how old you are! every time that he sounded his clarion.

She opened the lattice and wished him goodday, with a laugh. It was so pleasant to be woken by him and to think that no one in all the world could ever call her a child any more.

There was a kid bleating in the shed. There was a thrush singing in the dusk of the sycamore leaves. There was a calf lowing to its mother away there beyond the fence. There were dreamy  muffled bells ringing in the distance from many steeples and belfries where the city was; they all said one thing: “How good it is to be so old as that — how good, how very good!”

Bebee was very pretty.

No one in all Brabant ever denied that. To look at her it seemed as if she had so lived amongst the flowers that she had grown like them, and only looked a bigger blossom — that was all.

She wore two little wooden shoes and a little cotton cap, and a grey kirtle — linen in summer, serge in winter; but the little feet in the shoes were like rose-leaves, and the cap was as white as a lily, and the grey kirtle was like the bark of the bough that the apple blossom parts when it peeps  out to blush in the sun.

Typical of the romantic versions of peasant life.  Daniel Ridgway Knight (american painter, 1839-1924) - "The flower boat"
Typical of the romantic versions of peasant life. Daniel Ridgway Knight (american painter, 1839-1924) – “The flower boat”

 

International Bibliography for the Study of Magazines: France

Recently I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to do transnational comparative research on periodicals, so I’ve started to compile a series of guides to the study of magazines in various countries. Since they’ll all be in one place, it should be easier the follow up lines of enquiry across countries. I have to say I have found the enterprise really fascinating!

Here’s the first, on French Periodicals.

France, along with Britain and Germany, is one of the points of origin of the magazine form and the history of French magazines runs in parallel and dialogue with its two neighbours. It is distinct, however, in its early phase by its centralisation, domination by just three titles and its generally literary orientation: the learned Journal des Savants (1665-), the literary and more gossipy Mercure galant (1672-1825; Mercure de France after 1724) and the (eventually) government-controlled news magazine the Gazette (de France) (1631-1915). In the eighteenth century, the press began to diversify: the Recueil périodique d’observations de médecine, de chirurgie et de pharmacie (1754-1793 ) is the first medical magazine, Courier de la Mode ou Journal du gout (1768-770) was the first women’s magazine and so on. In the nineteenth century French women’s and satirical magazines like Le Moniteur de la mode (1843-1913)  and Le Charivari (1832-1937) especially were global inspirations, though literary journals like the Revue des deux Mondes (1829-) were also extremely influential. The “Golden Age” of magazines is generally considered to occur between the Paris Commune and the First World War (1871-1914), when illustrated news magazines such as the Petit Journal (1863-1944) attained circulations of over a million.  Histories of the French press emerged at the same time as in Britain, in the mid-nineteenth century. Hatin’s Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France of 1859 is deservedly famous, but it also signals the course of French press historiography even more than its British analogues by focussing on newspapers and high-status literary magazines: the sustained history of popular French magazine has had to wait to be written until the late twentieth century.

 

REFERENCE

Devreux, Lise and Philippe Mezzasalma, eds. 2011. Des sources pour l’histoire de la presse: guide. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale

An authoritative guide to the press holdings of the Bibliothèque Nationale from its earliest journals to the electronic magazines of today, it covers the laws, economy and technology of the (mainly newspaper) press in detail. Of especial value is the very extensive bibliography. Magazine history is much more prominent than in Bellanger (q.v.).

Place, Jean-Michel, and André Vasseur. Bibliographie des revues et journaux littéraires des XIXe et XXe Siècles. 3 vols. Paris: J.M. Place, 1973–77.

Place and Vasseur’s valuable bibliography covers the years 1840–1930 for a select number of both famous and lesser-known French literary periodicals, with facsimiles of cover pages, an introduction to each journal, and full bibliographic descriptions, which include information about the editors, contributors, and physical characteristics of each periodical, along with a table of contents for each issue. It also includes an invaluable index of names.

OVERVIEWS OF PERIODS, GENRES, PLACES

Albert, Pierre. 1970. Histoire de la Presse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

This small volume, one of the popular Que-sais-je? series, is useful as a starting point for a press history of France compared with (mainly) England and Germany (the USA has a few pages devoted to it). Though magazines figure hardly at all, and there is little detail, the volume has the virtue of summarising the overarching conditions of the press within which magazines operated.

Bellanger, Claude, Jacques Godechot, Pierre Guiral and Fernand Terrou, eds. 1969. Histoire générale de la presse française. 5 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

The standard history of the French press from its beginning to the 1960s. A monumental undertaking, these volumes all freely mix newspapers and magazines, though the stress is on politics and newspapers. While attention is certainly given to technology, circulation and genre, an emphasis characteristic of French press history, is on the development of press law.

Eveno, Patrick. 2012. Histoire de la presse française de Théophraste Renaudot à la revolution numérique. Paris: Flammarion.

A lavishly illustrated volume, this popular history of the French press from its beginnings with Renaudot’s Gazette in 1631 offers a surprising amount of illuminating material. Most of the volume is spent on the late nineteenth and twentieth century press. Magazines play a part in the narrative, but the main utility of the volume is for high-quality background information.

Forsdick, Charles and Andy Stafford, eds. 2013. La Revue: the Twentieth-Century Periodical in French. Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien Peter Lang.

Acknowledging the dearth of studies of French magazines as magazines, this collection seeks to remedy that with 19 essays, mostly in English but some in French, centred on individual, mainly niche, magazines. Notably, there is a chapter on the history of French-language magazines in Mauritius.

Kalifa, Dominique, Phillipe Régnier, Marie-Ève Thérenty, Allain Vallant, eds. 2011. La Civilisation du journal: Histoire culturelle et littéraire de la presse française au XIXe siècle. Paris: Nouveau Monde.

At almost 1800 pages and with 116 essays (many like long encyclopedia entries) by 60 contributors, this volume is to the study of French periodicals what the Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism (q.v.) aspired to do for British: push periodical writing to the forefront of nineteenth-century studies. While it is not restricted to magazines, magazines play a very large role here. This is certainly the obvious place to start for a study of the nineteenth-century French magazine, though the emphasis is decidedly literary rather than technological or economic.

Mesche, Rachel. 2013. Having it all in the Belle Epoque: How French Magazines invented the Modern Woman. Stanford, CA: Stanfird University Press.

Despite the sensationalist title, this is a well-researched study of the dialogue between magazines, literary production and feminism, focussing on two photographic magazines aimed at women La Vie Heureuse (The Happy Life, 1902-1917) and Femina (1901-1954)

DATABASES

Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France (BBF), http://bbf.enssib.fr.

The Bulletin provides much useful information on new bibliographies, digital projects, and academic articles about bibliographic issue. The site includes the entire back catalogue of the BBF revue since its beginnings in 1956.

Dictionnaire des journaux 1600-1789 and Dictionnaire des journalistes 1600-1789 http://dictionnaire-journaux.gazettes18e.fr/ and http://dictionnaire-journalistes.gazettes18e.fr/

Two related open-access reference sources, the equivalent of the pay-walled Waterloo Indexes to nineteenth-century British and Irish periodicals, these are updates of paper versions published first in 1974 and subsequently. Links to digital facsimiles are provided where these exist, and there are extremely useful and informative welcome pages outlining the scope of the Dictionnaires. This is an essential resource for the study of early magazines in France.

Gallica, http://gallica.bnf.fr

A massive, user-friendly open-access digitization project sponsored by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Gallica includes many periodicals. Usefully, it links up to other digital holdings, such as the Bibliothèque numérique de Roubaix (an online local history archive), and provides brief background information on individual daily newspapers as well as periodical and press history.

Système universitaire de documentation (SUDOC)   http://www.sudoc.abes.fr

SUDOC is the online union catalogue of French university libraries. It includes Myriade, a union catalogue of 250,000 periodical titles in French libraries and archive centres, including 2,000 non-university institutions, such as municipal libraries. Not digitized it is invaluable as a finding aid.

Journaux de la Revolution de 1848

This database, available as part of Gale Cengage’s (q.v.) Archives Unbound, and thus available only to subscribing institutions, offers fully text searchable facsimiles of newspaper and magazine titles published in France 1848-1852.

Persée. http://www.persee.fr/

An open-access site, this offers text-searchable access to over 170 collections comprising some 530,000 documents, including facsimiles of numerous learned journals in French such as the Journal des Savants (from 1910 to today) . The earliest material dates from 1840, though the main focus is on twentieth and twenty-first century materials..

 

Matrimonial Ads in the Victorian Press: Fantasy, Imagination, Story, Life

“Honest, Thick-Skinned Advertisements for Goods”?

The London Journal 5 March 1853
The beautiful heroine: The Will and the Way by J.F. Smith in The London Journal 5 March 1853

W.D. a tall, dark, young man, with £200 per annum, derived from an investment in the funds, would like to have a fair-complexioned young wife; he has just returned from Italy, but does not admire the dark beauties of that land of poetry and song.

MARIA C., of Wavertree, who resides with a cross old aunt, is desirous to join her fate with that of a medical man; she wants a comfortable domestic home; she is a good housekeeper, and not afraid of labour, having kept her late father’s house without a servant; she is not a child but “fat, fair and forty” with a fine complexion, splendid and perfect set of teeth, also beautiful hands and small feet. She has £64-a year now, and will have £500 on the death of her aged aunt.

(both from “Notices to Correspondence,” The London Journal, 5 March 1853, p. 416)

2015-05-21 15.23.58Who of us hasn’t, if we’re honest, scanned what not so long ago were the “Personals” in newspapers? I certainly used to and no doubt would today if I happened to come across them  (now you have to make an effort by going to specialised websites – the pleasures of chance encounters in the press are altogether rarer). Weren’t the personals wonderful invitations to fantasy? What would X be like? Would I like them? Would they like me? Are they like me? What a funny ad! – what kind of person would answer that? etc etc

If the above two quotations from the penny fiction weekly London Journal are anything to go by,  it seems the fantasies of Victorians were rather different from ours. They assume marriage is less about romantic love or sex than comfortable domestic arrangements. The fantasy concerns a better life obtained through the synergistic pooling of resources, whether those resources be money,  labour, or looks. W.D.’s main selling points are his £200 a year and – perhaps for some – commitment to his home country; Maria C. supplements her offer of £64 a year with the prospect of an additional £500, commitment to hard work, experience of managing a household – and, her father being dead, no interfering relatives (remember Lady Audley’s sponging father?).

To read them like that is to read them as  “honest, thick-skinned advertisements for goods” as the Spectator put it in a review of the later (and very successful) magazine entirely devoted to matrimonial ads, the Matrimonial News (1870-1895).

Of course, one can easily weave stories about these two — though, even if imaginary,  I hesitate to call them fantasies.

Perhaps W.D. was on the rebound, jilted by an Italian beauty he had encountered in Florence,  Venice or Naples. £200 is a fair amount to to live on but not enough to keep a carriage or horses: why doesn’t he declare other possibilities of income such as training for the law? He’s probably feckless and superficial, a Shallow Hal who only wants a blonde. Or perhaps he is an Artist who lives only for Beauty. Ah! Now there’s an idea for a novel plot! Ouida might well have used it (except that in 1853 she was only 14 and had six years to go before her first tale was published). Still, one thinks of Folle Farine in 1871 (not one of Ouida’s sunniest – W.D. in this novel would be a heartless monster!)

As for Maria C. from  Wavertree – why does she want a medical man? Is she ill? £64 a year and £500 on the death of an aunt, a father with no servants, based in a Liverpool suburb — not a promising social or financial additional asset for a physician. Despite her fair hair, in no substantive sense is she Rosamond Vincey in George Eliot’s Middlemarch!  But maybe a surgeon would find Maria useful, for surgeons in the 1850s, although they were fighting for status,  were still associated with trade. Or perhaps an apothecary would do? Interestingly, I can’t think of a novel plot in which Maria C.’s story might have appeared in this period. One can imagine a naturalist novel by Gissing where her story could be told, but in the early 1850s the heroines were young and beautiful. A Punch cartoon might feature her as a harridan man-chaser, Dickens might parody her in Pickwick Papers as Rachael Wardle or Mrs Bardell, but Maria C. is just not narratable in fiction of this period, at least not in a way which would give her a decent interior life. She has no voice in print other than what she herself gives it – a remarkable achievement on her part.

Notices to Correspondents page, The London Journal 5 March 1853
Notices to Correspondents page, The London Journal 5 March 1853

I’ve recently been reading Jennifer Phegley’s very entertaining Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England (2011) and (not for the first time) was struck by the imaginative possibilities of these ads that she discusses so well (click here for a fun lecture by by Jennifer delivered in Kansas in February 2012)

While the ads don’t seem to link directly to novels of the period, it’s interesting   that it seems a reflex for us to decode them –  extend them  – flesh them out – by trying (and perhaps failing) to link them to such novels.

I’m reminded of Lisa Zunshine’s contention in Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel that however we may be trained in academia to treat texts as dead objects, we keep wanting to animate them by ascribing to them a spirit, an identity, a personhood of which they are symptoms. And isn’t  trying to connect the matrimonial ads to novels in some curious way a bizarre instance of that, as if the novels were more alive than the ad? We don’t know W.D.’s or Maria C’s real stories, so we have to turn in a really bizarre way to something we consider the next best thing: the Victorian novel.

This is a far cry from the fantasies inspired by the personals of the late twentieth century: they prompt a different set of questions and today offer different, retrospective solutions, that, however imaginary, are, well, not fantasies so much as wishes that dead words on paper or screen that bore little or no relation to the material lives of real people might, perhaps once, have been the stories and memories instinct with life and breath.

For a light-hearted little video on matrimonial ads from the BBC, see my discussion with the wonderful Lucy Worseley here.

The Army Surgeon – some comments

“The Army Surgeon”

Sydney Dobell

Over that breathing[1] waste of friends and foes,[2]

The wounded and the dying, hour by hour,-

In will a thousand, yet but one in power [3] ,-

He [3] labours thro’ the red and groaning day.

The fearful moorland where the myriads lay

Moved as a moving field of mangled worms. [4]

And as a raw brood, orphaned in the storms,

Thrust up their heads if the wind bend a spray

Above them, but when the bare branch performs

No sweet parental office, sink away

With hopeless chirp of woe, so as he goes

Around his feet in clamorous agony

They rise and fall;[5] and all the seething plain

Bubbles a cauldron vast of many-coloured pain.[6]


[1] This immediate emphasis on breath not only suggests breath as a theme but as a corporeal sensation for the reader – for the poem itself offers various challenges to the reader’s control of her or his own breath: it starts with pretty regular rhythm (iambic pentameter), but especially during the epic simile from line 7 onwards, the convoluted syntax spreading over clever enjambements and caesuras strains the reader’s own breathing as well as the rhythm.

[2] The rhyme scheme gives the impression of being broken, befitting the damaged bodies the poem describes. As with the rhythm, the syntax fights the rhyme scheme, making it difficult to discern. When split into two sestets the scheme seems less awry — abbccd, d[eye rhyme]cdcac [pseudo rhyme], ee — but the rhythms, especially the strong pause at the end of line 4 and the recall of that line’s rhyme at line 8 suggest a tough yet ghostly tension with an organisation of the poem into the more traditional 3 quatrains which is never realised.

[3] Death and its proximity unite all into one undifferentiated nameless mass. This is a particular example of the sublime, as defined by Edmund Burke. Today we might be tempted to regard the use of the sublime here not for aesthetic purposes but for political — in describing and enacting the horrors of war, we might assume the poem is against war. However, other readings are certainly possible: quite what the poem’s politics are depends on how we read the poem. Read in isolation, it is true that its violent sensationalism seems to oppose war. Yet when read as an element of  the whole collection it might be regarded as indicating the depth of sacrifice necessary to make Britain Great. This latter was a reading of the collection certainly made at the time by critics and newspaper editors.

[3] The final line of the first stanza introduces the single character into the undifferentiated mass of humanity. Both are unnamed: neither the mass nor the surgeon are individuals, but effects of their jobs. We might also regard the surgeon as the poet who surveys and dispassionately reports. Given the emphasis of the poem on painful suffering this might be a surprising suggestion, yet we should not forget the sheer skill of the poet’s pen here mirroring the surgeon’s own expertise with the scalpel. In neither case can professional knowledge alleviate suffering (see also below, note [5]). What the poet can do, however, is in a curious way comfort readers by reminding them that, like the surgeon, both he and they have survived. This is quite consonant with the Burkean understanding of the sublime, which was based on the perceiving subject’s realisation that he or she had survived death even though death had been encountered.

[4] The fallen seem already to have become prey to being eaten by worms: time, in this case the future and the present, has been collapsed in ways typical of the sublime. Simultaneously, a point is being made about the unity of living creation, a notion reinforced by the following comparison of the wounded to chicks desperate to be with their mother who will never come, and the surgeon to the tree branch which the chicks believe to be her but which cannot, by its nature, help them. We are all mortal animals dependent on the rhythms and failures of breath.

[5] The suggestion is of a wave – a rhythm – that rises and falls uselessly. The surgeon can do nothing for the dying. Here is the limit of the professional’s ever-increasing pastoral role caring for his flock (cf. King para 31). Scientific rationality cannot have a purchase here: the only language adequate for such suffering is that of flesh itself – the body and its breath, fragile, easily interruptible: in short, corporeal sensation, the spasmodic. This is not representation so much as presentation that produces in the reader the same sensations felt by the described.

[6] The last line shockingly introduces the language of the kitchen, suggesting a parti-coloured stew of boiled meats and vegetables seen from the point of view of the meat rather than the cook (whether the reference is to a witches brew leads to the same conclusion). Suddenly in this line we are presented with a space  where damaging flesh, even if not human, is the norm. This normalisation and naturalisation of suffering, legible in the epic simile too, confirms a preoccupation for how suffering is to be represented (or presented) rather than politically or ethically dealt with. Death is natural and normal, however painful and horrific, and it is the poet’s duty to communicate it. How to communicate death and dying is both the “scientific” and aesthetic point of the poem. Whether the suffering is to be valorised or condemned – that is, read politically and ethically – is, however, for the reader to decide, at least in this poem.


Publication and Reception Note

the army surgeon sonnets on the war 1855 title page

sonnets on the war 1855 title page

Sydney Dobell’s sonnet “The Army Surgeon” was originally published in Sonnets on the War, a joint collection with Dobell’s friend Alexander Smith that is now freely available or archive.org.

No manuscript source seems to have survived (see National Archives entry on Dobell). The one contemporary reprinting (see below) offers no variation of the text. While Dobell used only ‘the Author of “Baldur” and “The Roman”‘ on the title page, contemporary reviews show that his name and identity were already well known.

Frontispiece from 1856 edition

Smith and Dobell’s slim volume (of just 48 pages) was published in the first days of January 1855 by Bogue of Fleet Street as a shilling paperback (we can date the publication from a reference to it in a letter from Dobell to one of his sisters dated 5 January in which he says he hopes to send her a copy the next day – Life and Letters of Sydney Dobell, p. 396). Presumably Smith and Dobell’s usual publisher, Smith, Elder and Co (who published Dobell’s later and more expensive hardback collection England in Time of War) was unable to insert publication of the volume into their schedules, whereas the lower-status Bogue was more flexible. The poem was republished without emendment in The Poetical Works of Sydney Dobell (2 vols, Smith, elder & Co, 1875)  on p. 226, where Dobell’s contribution to “Sonnets on the War” are precipitated out from that volume, enabling us to distinguish them from Smith’s. The Poetical Works of Sydney Dobell is also available through archive.org.

Although “The Army Surgeon” can certainly be read as a self-standing commentary on (or description or enactment of) generic horrors of war, it in fact forms part of a narrative sequence that very firmly locks the poem into its historical context. The borders of this particular sequence are porous since the entire volume begs to be read as a whole, but one can see a distinct set of poems centred on the Battle of the Alma (20 September 1854, generally considered the first major battle of the Crimean War), comprising the sonnet “Alma” that immediately precedes “The Army Surgeon”, and the following three, two entitled “Wounded” and the last “After Alma”. Dobell only wrote “The Army Surgeon” amd the two “Wounded” poems but the arrangement of the pages certainly asks the reader to think of the Surgeon at the Alma.

Even though I have been unable to locate specific examples in newspapers before the collection appeared, I nonetheless think it helpful to regard the collection as comprising a specific type of what Natalie Houston has called the “newspaper poem,” that is, occasional poetry responding to or commenting on contemporary events reported in the press. The most famous Victorian example of this is Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”  first published in The Examiner on 9 December 1854 in response to a Times article.

Andrew Hobbs has persuasively argued that the provinciual press was a major locus of poetry publishing in the nineteenth century,  and poems from “Sonnets on the War” is no exception. But rather than reprint all of them equally, there is a decided preference by newspapers for some over others. “The Army Surgeon” was not amongst those favoured at the time, perhaps because its imagery was too strong or its sentence structure and long and tortured central metaphor were considered too difficult.  The Aberdeen Journal (10 January 1855, p. 6) reprinted six sonnets: “Alma”, “After Alma”, the two sonnets on “The Cavalry Charge”, “Miss Nightingale” and “Cheer.” This is a selection that offers a reassuring narrative arc and avoids too much horror. The first three are reprinted again by  The Blackburn Standard on 7 February (p. 4) along with “Sebastopol” with a similar effect.

The politically more radical Lloyd’s Weekly, full of praise for the collection (14 January 1855, p.8), offers a different selection. Starting with “Alma” again, it continues with the second “Wounded” poem (a startling choice given the poem’s poetically very new technique of assembling fragments of everyday speech and follows it with “America”, “Freedom” and “Volunteers”. Again, however, despite a selection emphasising the politically and aestehtically radical, the arc remains comforting: for even if poetic novelty is admitted in Lloyd’s pages, the most shocking, visceral poems are omitted.

The volume was greeted with a mixed reception at the time. The lengthy review in the Inverness Courier (1 February 1855, p. 2), the only contemporary newspaper where I have found “The Army Surgeon” reprinted, regarded the collection’s level as of “respectable mediocrity.” But it did praise the the poets for “producing work on a practical subject, which, if its poetry is not of a very high order, contains nothing visionary, absurd or impracticable”. It singles out “The Army Surgeon” as one of the best according to these criteria. The review of the collection in The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (5 May 1855) is likewise very lukewarm. Its principle bone of contention is that the sonnets are not musical: “In the hands of of a master the sonnet gives exquisite music;but strung by a tyro the sounds will be discordant.”  Ironically, of course, it is precisely the violence the authors of “Sonnets on the War” do to the traditional expectations of the sonnet that today constitutes one of the collection’s main interests. The review ends  by reprinting two of the more conservative poems (both ideologically and formally): “Miss Nightingale” and “Good Night” which they assume to have been written by Smith and Dobell respectively. It thus rescues the collection for patriotism just as the other newspapers had done.

Interestingly the London Lancet (the American edition of the British medical journal Lancet)- which reprinted the poem in 1856 – uses the isolated poem as an example of “all the heroism and self-denying devotion of which we have spoken” (p. 222), suggesting not only a reading of the individual poem through the lens of the self-abnegating professional (cf. King para 34) but also a reading of “The Army Surgeon” through other poems in the volume. Whatever our own views, this is a reading made possible by the poets’ interest in the problems of communication rather than in the politics of the described action.

That said, when the poem became detached from its collection, the alternative anti-war reading became more easily available. This is certainly possible for example in the New Zealand Herald (10 February 1917, p. 1).

The context of the poem in the Crimean War and has been well covered elsewhere: Kathleen Béres Rogers “Embodied Sympathy and Divine Detachment in Crimean War Medical Poetry” is recommended as offering an attentive reading of the poem which places “The Army Surgeon” in a slightly different context from what I have offered here.

Illustrated London News double page spread Battle of the Alma, 14 October 1854
Illustrated London News double page spread Battle of the Alma, 14 October 1854

The Vicissitudes of Biography; or, how to welcome an Other

Draft of a talk for the University of Macerata to a general audience at 11am on the 11th of November 2014. The elaborate PowerPoint, contrapuntal with and not duplicative of these words, can be found here, along with a spoken word recording of the presentation.

frontispiece to Elizabeth Lee, Ouida: a Memoir (Methuen, 1914)
opposite p. 89 in Elizabeth Lee, Ouida: a Memoir (Methuen, 1914)

The Vicissitudes of Biography; or, how to welcome an Other

Le vicissitudini del raccontare una vita; o come accogliere un Altro

Almost everyone I meet asks me what I am doing in Macerata. To those in the street I give a simple linear answer: a guest of the new Collegio Matteo Ricci at the University, I’m finishing a biography of the nineteenth-century popular author Ouida,  planning a European networking project with colleagues here, and exchanging ideas about teaching and curriculum design (a reflection on which can be found here) .

But I think you here, kind enough to host me in the University and to welcome me in this splendid nineteenth-century aula, deserve something more than that plain list. And it’s the relation of welcome and biography that I want to spend these few minutes thinking about with you.

In 1908, shortly after Ouida had died in Viareggio after almost 40 years in Tuscany, a woman journalist from New York, a Miss Welch, wrote to an old soldier, now retired and staying in Viareggio, to ask if he could help her with information or letters about this woman author whose works sold by the million all over the world. He replied that, yes, he had known Ouida when he was in the military and, yes, he had renewed her acquaintance recently and exchanged a number of letters with her, and, yes, he would let Miss Welch see these letters. However, he warned, writing the life of Ouida would be very difficult. This wasn’t because of a paucity of information but because of the peculiar qualities the biographer of Ouida would require. Chief amongst these qualities would be what he thought was an already outmoded sense of chivalry towards the subject.

In his next letter to Miss Welch he changed his mind: he wouldn’t let her see the letters after all. Knowing Ouida’s hatred of biographies and the publication of private lives in general, he wanted to respect her wishes. Though he doesn’t say this in so many words, it’s clear that he feared Miss Welch would not treat Ouida chivalrously.

Miss Welch never wrote the biography.1st volume-length biography of Ouida: by Elizabeth Lee (Methuen, 1914) After the many, many obituaries of Ouida after her death on 25 January 1908, the first substantial volume-form biography was published in 1914 by Elizabeth Lee, the sister of the editor of the British Dictionary of National Biography.  This was followed by three more full-length biographies, the most recent of which appeared in 1957.

But the old soldier’s warning still appertains 106 years after it was written. We might regard the term “chivalry” as problematically patronising today, but we can and should think about the moral issues of biography, of writing or telling a life.  To do that, I’m prompted here by something  we have learnt, through what I think of as “Mediterranean” theory, to call over the last 20 years hospitality but which we might well call “welcome” or accoglienza. I’m not going to explore the delightfully tortuous paths of Derrida’s thinking  on hospitality here, now, in this welcoming aula,  or the way it interacts in dialogue with his interlocutor Anne Dufourmantelle, but rather, inspired by his work, to think about the vicissitudes — the perils, pains and transformations — of writing a life.

If we have learnt anything from Derrida, we know that there are many and contradictory ways to write — many ways to approach an Other. I can for example use the life of another to celebrate myself, to parade him or her like a jewel on a breast or on my cuffs or, demonstrating my ouida silver crestacquaintance with her as one of my possessions, to flash her as a claim to my status in a defined community. So, for example, I could write a biography merely to forward my career,  or to claim membership of a specific elite — let’s call them humanities academics — by using the life to promote a specific ideology, or to fulfill a publishing contract. I can do that efficiently, careless of the specific nature of the Other. We’ve all read biographies like that.

We can also “welcome” the Other through biographical rituals, helping them cross the threshold in ways that long use has sanctioned. We can think of these rituals as conventions or characteristics of a genre. I have followed this ritual route myself, as in my chapter last year on the publishing history of Ouida:

Marie Louise Ramé was born on 1 January 1839 to Susan Sutton and Louis Ramé in her maternal grandmother’s house, 1 Union Terrace, in the small provincial English market town of Bury St Edmund’s. Nominally a French teacher, her father was rarely en famille … 

Andrew King, “Ouida 1839-1908: Quantity, Aesthetics, Politics” in Ouida and Victorian Popular Culture, ed. Jane Jordan and Andrew King, Ashgate, 2013: 13-36, p. 13.

But those are both very egocentric welcomes, the first using lives as things, as exchangable commodities (a life in return for a measurable amount of status or pay), the second, ritualistic, incorporating the Other, or perhaps making the life fit our dimensions and rules as Procrustes stretched or chopped the bodies of his guests to make them fit his bed – the biographer as butcher indeed. To those extents, both are problematic. Neither truly welcomes the life of the Other.

How then would we rightly welcome a life?

First of all, it wouldn’t mean the exclusion of the previous parading of the Other I’ve just seemed to reject. How terrible if we were not proud to be seen in the company of the Other! It wouldn’t mean rejecting the Other as jewel, or even as exchangeable object in a social transaction, ideological or commercial. Neither would it mean a refusal of form, though one would hope it not Procrustean.  But it would mean, in addition to and in excess of those, recognising the Other as other — taking the trouble to find out how this person is different from me and from my social groups.

In life, we can ask our guests what they need in ways direct or subtle – and guests can tell us even before we ask; in writing a life of the dead, in welcoming a stranger into our community from not only another place but another time, we cannot ask directly. They not only do not speak the same language as us, they do not speak at all, as Ouida well knew and feared — that was why she hated biography. But we needn’t give up in the face of her opposition. We must, to write a life, learn to read the signs of demand and desire without being able to ask, and without too much imposition. That in turn requires a plan and clear methodology that while organised and strategic, must seek to accommodate, to welcome, to be open to alterity and the unexpected. Without those one cannot expect to see Otherness.  And here lie the vicissitudes: the pains and the transformations.

If these points are relevant to the writing of all lives and all welcomes we give, what are the specific requirements of Ouida’s? Apart from my own short accounts of Ouida of course (!) – the longest just 10, 000 words –  previous biographies have all been problematic.

The best is the first, issued in 1914 by Elizabeth Lee. Since many of the players in Ouida’s life were still alive, both fear of libel and a sense of chivalry to the living as well as dead forced Lee to conceal a good deal. It also meant that she was unclear as to many of her sources, several of which are untraceable, and that she placed Ouida in her context only superficially. Nonetheless, we can see that within the limits of fear and chivalry, Lee did at least try to be responsible to her subject.

The three subsequent major biographies are all, however, examples of treating the other as object—I’ll not name them here because I don’t want to give them the oxygen of publicity. They essentially treat her like this Punch cartoon from 1881.

Punch 28 August 1881
Punch 28 August 1881

For them Ouida is nothing more than a figure of fun, a bag of bright feathers with no hat to put them on, all extravagance and no substance. The three biographies are very amusing and for that reason have been very influential from the Wikipedia entry on Ouida to the first monograph devoted to Ouida’s novels which came out in 2008. But they mistranscribe letters, misspell key names and alter evidence for comic effect just as the Punch cartoon does (Ouida never smoked for example).  For them Ouida remains a thing, an object of ridicule, a piece of meat, a way of extracting money by amusing audiences. There’s no chivalry and certainly no hospitable treatment of Ouida as a welcomed Other or, to use Derrida’s term in On Hospitality, a  foreigner (starniero, étranger).

Like many of the best known women writers of the nineteenth-century, George Eliot and Mary Braddon for example, Ouida was not pretty or conventional. But unlike most of them, neither was she accommodating or charming. Nor did she have a man to help her transact business. She was very assertive, outspoken, as this quotation from the introduction to an 1888 Italian translation to some of her short stories shows.

Si direbbe che Ouida è invasa dalla mania di proclamare ai quattro venti l’infamia di quella classe [mondana], di palesare che tutto, in essa, è fango, orpello, ignavia, ipocrisia, e che quanto havvi di più cretino ed ingiusto pullula in quelle alte sfere ove  … le tignuole rodono l’ermellino e il mondo bacia il lebbroso sulle due guancie.

“Memini” « Appunti critici » in Affreschi ed altri racconti di Ouida, Milano: Treves, 1888: v-xix, p.xi.

What “Memini” could have said, had s/he written 20 years later, was that Ouida refused to respect money, wrote tirelessly in favour of political individualism, animal rights, and the conservation of old buildings. She mercilessly denounced capitalism, militarism and masculine performance, told political leaders that terrorism was their own fault, complained bitterly that Italy had failed to live up to the ideals of the risorgimento, dared to give voice to the poor and exploited, and had a keen sense of the aesthetic, the creation and conservation of which she held up as a necessary moral alternative to the violences of war and greed. Anticipating Bhutan, she extolled gross national happiness over gross national product.

She wrote the first known novel in which a divorced woman ends happily unmarried living with her lover – Moths curiously is the only novel of her 40 in Macerata libraries.  She wrote in both her published works and private letters of unorthodox sexual preferences and practices from male homosexuality to female masochism, and refused to condemn any except when lack of consent and discretion were involved. She solidified the term ‘New Woman‘ to describe the calls for women’s work, political and artistic representation in the 1890s.

A liberal perhaps like the dominant norm amongst humanities academics in the west? She sounds like one of us.

But then not: Ouida hated the New Woman for her hypocrisy in calling for a freedom that she thought would enslave others. Ouida was also anti-Semitic and often misogynistic. She hated doctors, medical intervention and scientific progress in general; she hated democracy as tending to a dull level of conformity. She championed instead an aristocracy of intellect and land – but only as long as both the landed and intellectual aristocrat was cultured, refined and responsible (rather like the hero in her last, unfinished, novel Helianthus).

Ouida could never have been my friend. I disagree with her solutions to the problems she saw and indeed some of what she saw as problems. And she would have been hell to work with as a colleague. She remains very different from me.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to her carefully and try to understand this very other person, above all seeking the right questions to ask: what do you really need to be understood today, here, now? What do you really want? How can I encourage you to tell me so that I do not silence you with the violence either of my desires or of my parade, or cut you on the butcher’s bed of convention, ritual or ridicule? This attempt to listen through the static of the day for the voices and requirements of the dead, this attempt to become an Echo as opposed to a Narcissus — this certainly invites vicissitudes: misfortunes because the project is inevitably fraught, fated to imperfection and sacrifice on both sides, but also, I dare hope, vicissitudes in the sense of transformations both of the past and of the present, and hence a new path into the future.

So what am I doing at Macerata? Besides writing bids with my esteemed colleagues here, teaching and exchanging ideas, trying to answer these difficult questions, variants of which, despite their vicissitudes, we all answer, consciously or not, every day, in our own ways.

Ouida A Dog of Flanders/ Nello e Patrasche

Ouida, “A Dog of Flanders” (1872)/ Nello e Patrasche (1880)

 editions in English and Italian

1893 Giftbook edition of "A Dog of Flanders", Lippincott's (USA)
1893 Giftbook edition of “A Dog of Flanders”, Lippincott’s (USA)

English edition: A Dog of Flanders edited by Andrew King

Italian translation (large file – be patient): nello e patrasche trans T Cibeo Treves 1880

“A Dog of Flanders: a Story of Noel” was originally written as a Christmas tale for the American Lippincott’s Magazine, where it appeared in volume 9, January 1872, pp.79-98.

Later that year it was published in London, Philadelphia and (again in English) in Leipzig as part of a collection of short stories given various titles but which was (in textual terms) virtually the same: A Dog of Flanders and Other Stories (London: Chapman & Hall) with illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti; A Leaf in the Storm, and Other Stories (Philadelphia: Lippincott); A Leaf in the Storm; A Dog of Flanders; and other stories (Leipzig: Tauchnitz).

In 1873 there was a pirated Australian edition – and soon a flood of translations (some pirated and some not) in various languages. Beyond the usual French and German, there were also Russian, Polish, Finnish, and eventually Japanese, Korean and – surprisingly perhaps given its specifically Christian setting – Yiddish, as well as an enormous number of pirated American editions in English. There are at least 11 film and TV versions (the 1999 film can be found in its entirety here ) plus a documentary made in 2007 on the story’s incredible popularity still in Japan.

There was of course an Italian translation (called “Nello e Patrasche”).  It came out in 1880 with the Milanese publisher Fratelli Treves, with whom Ouida published translations of several of her novels as well as collections of stories.  “A Dog of Flanders” was, however, a makeweight in a volume whose principal part – and the only one mentioned on the title page – was Zola’s short novel / long short story “Nantas” (1878). Besides “Nantas” (pages 5- 177), the volume in fact also contained “Storia d’amor sincero” by Dickens (pages 181-196; actually an extract from chapter 17 of Pickwick Papers – the tale of Nathaniel Pipkin); “Nello e Patrasche” (pages 199-238); “Una Strage in Oriente” (pages 241-313) by the Russian journalist and traveller Lidia Paschkoff (or Lydia Pashkoff and other variant spellings in Roman script).

I’ve made an uncorrected PDF of Nello e Patrasche taken directly from this out of copyright edition. It is a very large file as it comprises images of the pages. It you missed it at the top of the page, here it is again:  nello e patrasche trans T Cibeo Treves 1880

"A Dog of Flanders" in 1906 Roycrofters edition - it's covered in suede and very tactile --like the fur of a dog!
“A Dog of Flanders” in 1906 Roycrofters edition – it’s covered in suede and very tactile –like the fur of a dog!

This translation is significantly different from the English not in its plot (though a significant name is changed) but in its lack of interest in sound and rhythm. Several descriptive passages are simplified it seems to me, which is strange as these were one of the key things Ouida was most appreciated for in Italy as elsewhere. This is how “Memini,” the translator of some of Ouida’s short stories as Affreschi ed altri racconti (Milano: Treves, 1888), described her powers of painting the Italian landscape in words:

I suoi paesaggi sono mirabili illustrazioni descrittive; alcune pagine… raggiungono la perfezione del genere e ci obbligano all dolorosa confessione della nostra inferiorità nello studio e nella descrizione letteraria del nostro paesaggio… (pp. xvi-xvii of the “Appunti critici”)

Why therefore did “T. Cibeo”, the translator of “A Dog of Flanders,” choose not to try to aim for similar effects in Italian? Why too is the title changed from a representative animal to the names of the two main characters? It’s a quite common title change in translations of this tale – try searching for “Nello e Patrasche” online – but we must ask what the implications of such a change might be.

And then there’s another curious thing. “Nello e Patrasche” was not reprinted in Italian so often as other Ouida stories. Her children’s story “La stufa di Norimberga” (“The Nurnberg Stove”) is very easy to find, for example, and has been translated several times, whereas the 1880 translation of “Nello e Patrasche,” buried in a  volume whose main attraction was Zola and not even mentioned on the title page, was the only one I could locate really to exist (others turned out to be mistakes). Why was this story not so popular in Italy when it is so popular elsewhere? That is surely a question for investigation. It can’t be just the quality of the 1880 translation but something about the story itself. What values does it suggest that might prove unattractive to the Italian market? That is something that can and should be discussed in dialogue with Italian native speakers.

We’ll never know how many copies and translations of “A Dog of Flanders” were sold or how many people read this story. Certainly many millions in Japan alone beside the many millions in other languages. All we can say is that it was very successful amongst a very wide cross-section of society in many countries, including not only the general public but also amongst the elite. The artist Burne-Jones wrote a letter to a friend telling a lovely story of how he recalled (the influential Victorian art-critic) Ruskin and Cardinal Manning (Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England from 1865 until his death in 1892) one day grubbing about on the floor desperate to find a copy of this story they both loved.

There are various free online editions of “A Dog of Flanders” available in English though none in Italian besides the one I’m offering you here. Some of the English texts are digital versions with little indication of what the source volume was, though you can find PDFs of actual books containing the texts through the very useful http://archive.org/details/texts site (see for example the beautiful – and certainly pirated – American Christmas gift-book version with lots of illustrations or the equally lavish 1909 Lippincott version illustrated by the famous children’s illustrator Louise M. Kirk).

The edition that I made is based on the Project Gutenberg text version, which claims to be a checked transcript of the 1909 edition from Lippincott.

I have, however, checked the Gutenberg edition against both the 1909 Lippincott version, the original serialisation and the first British edition by Chapman and Hall (no manuscript seems to have survived). I have edited so as to return the spelling to British standard (which Ouida always wrote in) and also adjusted the paragraphing again to the original (the Gutenberg text was in fact very faulty and didn’t even accord fully with the Lippincott edition, let alone the original).

If you missed the link at the top of the page, here it is again. It’s not a large file as it’s a PDF created from Word.

A Dog of Flanders edited by Andrew King

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).

John Dicks, Publisher, and “Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works”

My thanks to Louis James for the gift some time ago of six volumes (bound as 3) plus 10 monthly numbers of Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works and, in anticipation, to Anne Humpherys’ ongoing research on Dicks and reprinting, to which this post is intended as a small contribution.

To both these remarkable scholars this post is dedicated.

advert of Dicks' various reprint series from Dicks English Library March 1884
advert for Dicks various reprint series from Dicks English Library March 1884

As William St Claire has assertively reminded us on more than one occasion, the bibliophile connoisseur’s fetishisation of the “original” – the first – edition of texts has often occluded how reprints are actually more valuable in telling us about the cultural penetration of texts. The first edition is always to some extent “experimental” on the market. The publisher may have a good idea of who it will sell to and how how many copies will be shifted but the risk remains that he (for Victorian publishers were overwhelmingly male) may be wrong. Reprint editions still carry this risk of course, but to a lesser extent: the publisher already knows that the first edition or, indeed, the many previous editions, have sold and how quickly, and may even have evidence about who bought it, how the critics understood it, and so on. To that extent the risk is less. But reprints can also be aimed at radically different markets, as when Ouida is repackaged and sold in 6d form at the end of the century. The launch of a text in a new market may meet with considerable success, or it may not, so we cannot say with absolute conviction that reprinting involves less risk than first printing.

dicks standard plays
List of Dicks Standard Plays, c. 1884

Anecdotally, one of the best selling series of reprints of the latter part of the nineteenth century comprised a periodical entitled Dick’s English Library of Standard Works. This was issued from one of the most successful London publishing houses of cheap fiction, John Dicks, on which there is almost no work at all outside an excellent volume privately published in 2006 by a descendant of the founder (Guy Dicks, The John Dicks Press, Lulu.com). Nonetheless, Dicks is certainly well known as a name not only to students of Victorian popular reading, to whom Bow Bells (1862-1897), Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper (1850-1967) and Reynolds’s Miscellany (1846-1869) along with Reynolds’s Mysteries of the Court of London  (1849-1856) are all familiar, but also students of the Victorian theatre, for without the over 1,000 “Dicks Standard Plays” (published at a penny each between 1864 and 1907), many theatrical pieces would not be available to us at all.

John Thomas Dicks was born in 1818 and entered the London printing trade aged 14 or 15 “in a very humble capacity” (says the Bookseller in its obituary of Dicks, 3 March 1881). Around 1841 he became “assistant to P. T. Thomas, the Chinese scholar, who at that time was carrying on the business of publisher, printer and stereotyper to the trade on Warwick Square”. In the mid 1840s he started to be associated with  G. W. M. Reynolds and in 1863 seems to have amassed sufficient capital to set up as a printer and publisher at 313, Strand, London, where he entered into formal partnership with Reynolds.  After Reynolds died in 1879, Dicks bought his name and copyrights from his heirs for a very considerable annuity.

A major part of Dicks’ business, however,  already comprised reprinting which he organised into several  series, including “Dicks’ Complete Shakespeare,” and of course “Dicks’ Standard Plays” (see the first illustration in this post).

A measure of Dicks’s commercial acumen is suggested by  his death (in 1881) at his villa in Menton, a resort in the south of France where the European and Russian nobility kept their winter villas. Dicks also had a large house, the Lindens (which no longer survives except in the name of a post-war housing estate), in the exclusive west London suburb of Grove Park, Chiswick (the location was not accidental, for not only does the nearby railway station go to Waterloo, from where Dicks could cross the river easily to his office, but census data reveal that his wife was born in Hammersmith, the next suburb east of Chiswick). His estate, valued at “under £50,000” – a very considerable sum –  was left to his widow Maria Louisa and his sons Henry and John (see Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010).  Clearly, cheap publishing and reprinting could be a very profitable business indeed.

The indefatigable journalist, gossip and bon viveur George Sala has an amusing anecdote at Dick’s expense, however, suggestive of how despite almost all authors’ interest in money, financial and cultural capitals might be inversely proportional to one another. It’s part of a longer story about his encounter at Nice with a “Captain Cashless”  –“ middle-aged, good-looking, well-preserved…  spent most of his money before he came of age; lived for several years on the credit of his credit; is a widower and spent every penny of his wife’s fortune” (Life and Adventures of George Augustus Sala, volume 2: 293). The Captain cannot understand where Sala gets his money from, but Sala feels he might

sala life and adventures vol 2 294
Sala, Life and Adventures, Cassell, 1895, vol 2: 294

Sala lets us know that he can just toss off this profitable magic, turning the lead of his scribbling pencil into financial gold he can spend (and no doubt dispend) in Monte Carlo with his friend the glamorous rake. His methods of income generation and expenditure here seem to mirror one another in their low “real” value: both are fun, light, silly, worthless entertainments; good times, easily come by, easily left; in all Victorian senses, “fast”. In an analogue of the bibliophile connoisseur’s dismissal of the reprint as repetition, Sala dismisses his tales as the result of iterable alchemical formulae or repeated tricks of prestidigitation he has learned in the trade. Yet besides their illustration of the distance between cultural and financial capitals, such stories by their very comedy can hide from us the very serious business sense that lies behind them. It’s not that the fun is deceitful – on the contrary, without it there would be no commercial success – but that it is only one side of the coin.

dicks english novels Reynolds the seamstress

Dicks English Novels no 102: Reynolds, The Seamstress

 Turning now more specifically to the reprinting side of Dicks’s business, in the 1870s  a series of 6d volume-form reprints under the generic title “Dicks’ English Novels,” began to be published: they cost 6d and seem to have started as reset versions of novels originally serialised in Bow Bells. They also recycled the original illustrations. Many other novels were soon added, including, after the copyrights had been secured, works by G.W.M. Reynolds (see the image on the right for an example). In the end almost 200 titles were published in this series (more of which below). It was so successful a second series was begin in 1894.

After his death, Dicks’s sons developed the reprint with Dicks’ English Library of Standard Works, a periodical consisting entirely of the  serial re-issue of well-known novels. It came out in the usual 3 formats: weekly comprising 16 pages with four illustrations (costing 1/2d); monthly, consisting of the weekly numbers for the month costing 3d, in orange covers comprising mainly adverts; and in volume form of 416 pages plus title page and frontispiece costing 1/6. “Dicks’ English Library” was a quarto – the same size and format as most 1d or 1/2d periodicals such as the London JournalBow Bells or Reynolds’s Miscellany – and was first published on 27 June 1883. It ran for 38 volumes right up to 2 March 1894 whereupon (just as with Dicks’ English Novels”) a new series was started. Percy B. St. John was the editor of the first few volumes (on whom see a subsequent post).

Dicks English Standard Library no1
Dicks English Standard Library no1
dicks standard library title page 1
dicks standard library title page 1

 

dicks standard library vol 1 frontispiece
Dicks Standard Library vol 1 frontispiece

A typical announcement for the periodical can be seen here, justifying its publication not (of course) in commercial terms but in those of Whig public utility  that could have come from the 1830s. (The following is from the Pall Mall Gazette, but similar adverts were placed all over the press)

pall mall gazette 21 June 1881 15 (2)
The Pall Mall Gazette 21 June 1881: 15

Besides the  list of authors above and the more obvious suspects in the world of Victorian popular fiction – G.W.M. Reynolds, Bulwer Lytton, Charles Lever, G.P.R James, Captain Marryat, Paul de Kock and Dumas ‑  also included were Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (and Percy Bysshe’s Zastrozzi, both illustrated by the well-known illustrator Frederick Gilbert – Shelley’s complete “Poetical Works” are published later in the series), Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Hawthorn’s Scarlet Letter and Godwin’s Caleb Williams. Most intriguing (not least from the point of view of copyright) is the heavy presence of Dickens, including, later on, Dombey and Son as well as numerous individual tales.

The reissue of these texts cannot be taken to be an unalloyed index of popularity amongst the readers of cheap publications. The Dicks firm is clearly aiming at respectability and the aspirational reader keen to build up that sign of cultural capital, a “library” – the page numbers of each weekly and monthly number are incremental, asking the reader to keep them so as to build up the volume. The Shelley poetry may have been suggested by the revival of interest in him amongst the literati with Rossetti’s Moxon edition in 1870: it is a mark of what the public should aspire to rather than of already extant popular demand. Publication in this form is no indication that any particular author was read unless the author’s other works are also issued, and even then business reasons other than consumer demand may have prevailed – for example, copyrights might have been bought as a job lot in advance, and accordingly had to be exploited, or there were vacant pages that had to be filled with works whose copyright had lapsed. One also has to take into account what other works were serialised with, before and after any particular text, for it may be any or all of those that carried the periodical through rather than the particular text one is looking at.

What one also has to do is try to establish the publishing history of a series. Adverts are always useful for this and one on the monthly cover of “Dicks’ English Library” (October 1888) shows that by then 197 titles had been published in the “Dicks’ English Novels” series for example. The missing titles were presumably exhausted, but they can be identified by reference to other adverts elsewhere, either in other publications or earlier in the series (cf. the following with the first image of this post).

dicks english novels advert 1 October 1888
Advert from cover of Dicks’ English Library for Dicks English Novels, 1 October 1888

The history of the Dicks reprinting series has yet to be mapped: even a basic bibliography is lacking. After that is done, one of the many questions that can be answered concerns the relations of synergy between the various publication forms: for example, how far did the English Library reprint works previously available in the volume-form English Novels series? More complex questions can also be addressed, including the implications for the history of the canon, its creation, modification and its reception – if any – of the publishing choices of  this financially rich but status-poor house. The use of a garland of portraits of authors as a frontispiece for “Dicks Standard Library” suggests the prioritisiation of some authors over others: this prioritisation needs to be charted and compared to the number and positioning of authors actually published (a front-page author is lent greater prominence than one whose work starts on a middle page, for example).

These, and many other questions about this most interesting publisher, still await answers, and we look forward to them in due course.

Ouida and the Parergic 2

Guy_Livingstone frontispiece
US cheap reprint of Guy Livingstone by Routledge (1867) for both US and UK markets

Ouida, of course, from when her first story appeared in Bentley’s (she was just 18), had had to write for money. She knew where the power and money lay, and “mythical swelldom” was one place. In 1857 George Lawrence’s Guy Livingstone had appeared. It went through at least 6 editions by the mid-60s (the image is of an 1867 reprint by Routledge who evidently thought it worthwhile to print – and so establish copyright – in the US as well) and started the cult of the “muscular” hero. Even Dickens had to respond to it  (see Nicholas Shrimpton’s excellent article on Lawrence and the “Muscular School” of heroes in Dickens Quarterly, 29: 2). Lawrence himself was given no less than £1,000 for his novels – a very high sum indeed – by his publisher Tinsley, and Tinsley it was who published in volume form Ouida’s first novel, Held in Bondage in 1863, a novel which combined the dashing muscular school with bigamy and sexual deception, themes newly marketable since Lady Audley’s Secret. Ouida though only managed to get £50 from Tinsley for the rights to publish it (though she did manage to negotiate that he should only keep the copyright for a limited period. Tinsley, rather unpleasantly, wrote that he could have got the complete copyright had he driven a hard bargain). Strathmore followed the same publication pattern, though published, after negotiations, by Chapman and Hall who were now to become Ouida’s regular British publishers. She managed to sell them the short-term copyright for just £75.

Even to get these small sums was an effort. Ouida, a half-foreign woman of 20 from Bury St Edmund’s with no real connections, had to work out a way to make money in the cut-throat male world of London publishing. Hers is in a sense “surplus” labour which has to make itself needed: she is an outsider who has to get in. The solution Ouida seems to have arrived at was to  reflect back to power the image of itself it seemed to like. This is where the concept of parergy starts to become useful.

Fig 3 Under Two flags (421x640)There is an oft-repeated story that Ouida used the conversations she heard between men at her Langham gatherings for her now most famous novel, Under Two Flags. But, as Jordan demonstrates in her chapter for Ouida and Victorian Popular Culture, Ouida’s knowledge of military life was derived from reading rather than from conversations with military men. Such textual knowledge is legible from her earliest publications, the short stories she had published in Bentley’s in the early 60s, several of which we can read today as devastatingly critiquing male pomposity exemplified by the soldier (e.g. “Little Grand and the Marchioness”). But they can also be read as simply amusing in their accounts of masculinity. That they concern “mythical swelldom” as opposed to what the male critics regarded as reality is key: Ouida doesn’t get it quite “right” i.e. she presents the men from the outside, exposing men’s little blind spots and tricks of evasion. At this stage, that doesn’t matter: for the critics these deviations – these failures to adhere to the powerful norm – are a laugh, “brilliant nothings”.

By the mid 60s Ouida’s prices had risen slightly. Over 186566 she received £6 per monthly instalment for Under Two Flags in the British Army and Navy Review, a monthly to which she had contributed a series of stories and non-fiction articles on military matters since July 1864. Just as Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret was left incomplete in its first manifestation as a serial in the twopenny weekly Robin GoodfellowUnder Two Flags was unfinished when the British Army and Navy Review folded in June 1866. Bentley had taken over the Review in December 1865 but failed to save it. He later refused to publish the novel in volume format on the advice of his reader Geraldine Jewsbury who concluded that ‘the story would sell but … you would lower the character of your house if you accept it’.  Ouida wrote to another potential publisher, Frederick Chapman, a few months later claiming that the premature termination of the serial had left ‘military men’ waiting ‘with intense impatience’ to read the end. Her sales pitch to Chapman worked, for he published it as a triple-decker in November the following year. The American publisher Lippincott gave her £300 ‘by trade courtesy’ for his one-volume edition, and the continental publisher Tauchnitz brought it out in 1871. Three years later, Ouida was to sell her copyright outright to Chapman for less than £150.

This was to prove a costly mistake for, contrary to what has been claimed, the novel was initially only moderately successful. Its real success came in the 1890s when it sold in enormous numbers in cheap editions: Chatto and Windus, who bought the copyright from Chapman in 1876 as part of their vigorous expansion policy, were to print around 700,000 copies. Ouida got nothing from this. No wonder she was to write to her solictor in November 1884 that “Chatto & Chapman are two rogues who play into each other’s hands to keep down prices like the publisher in ‘Pendennis.’” Men still ruled the publishing industry, as they rule the wider media today.

By the 1890s, then, Ouida’s fiction has migrated downmarket. Interestingly, the penny papers do not treat her with the same attitude as the up-market expensive magazines and newspapers. On the contrary, for them she is “the leading female novelist of England” who has

“no rival in passionate eloquence, and the pathetic, emotional power by which she can change the lowly and the sinning into a glorified humanity, and lift up and ennoble and sanctify even the rudest nature by some one divine gem of supreme manifestation of sacrificial love” (Bow Bells 17 January 1890).

By this time, too, she had herself become comically wicked in that market. Unlike with the negative high-culture reviews of the 1870s and 1880s, this is surely a marketing ploy which positions Ouida as safely transgressive: her eccentricity is part of her scandalous appeal. One can have one’s desires enacted by someone else on the page without ever having to confess them as one’s own. Ouida is contained: once again we don’t have to read her seriously.

London journal extract on Ouida
London Journal 3 September 1898
To return again to parergy.

Parergy is not dismissal de haut en bas by critics who claim to know better – it is not a weapon in cultural warfare that the powerful wield. It is a wheedling weapon of the disempowered, a demand to be heard which knows it will fail, an attempt to participate in power while knowing that the odds are stacked against it. Is this what Ouida does in her early work?

I don’t think Ouida’s imitations of the “Muscular School” fail in an unambiguous way so much as lay that school open to the possibility of ridicule or parody:  they depart from it certainly, exposing its weaknesses and limitations and hidden assumptions. We are never allowed to forget that the hero of Under Two Flags is nicknamed “Beauty” and that he’s much more interested in his horse and his male friend “Angel” than in the heroine Cigarette or the paragon Lady Venetia or the actress he keeps (powerfully objectified as merely “the Zu-Zu” ) or his aristocratic mistress with the absurdly accurate name “Guenevere”. The women Beauty has a relationship with are all part of the appearance of masculinity. Even Beauty’s affair with Lady Guenevere is part of the system of masculine show: everyone knows about it and yet, in that complex game of respectability, at the same time they don’t. In any case, we are shown how this affair adds a potency to Beauty’s allure. How are we to take this exposure of the structuring of masculine power and image? Is it a flattering celebration or a merciless critique?

If the parergic can be found in Ouida it is gendered:  excluded from literary-economic power, she mirrors back those representations of masculinity which generate it, while at the same time departing from them by the acuteness of her vision and anxiety as an outsider.

It is very different from the non-gendered, generic parergy I located in the 1840s. If anything, that kind can still be found in the penny paper reviews of the 1890s – think of the rather strained description of Ouida in Bow Bells, with its anxious determination to dazzle with rhetorical devices (most notably a tricolon) at all costs, or the anecdote in the London Journal which could be funny were its rhythms more bouncily organised, and were it less determined to excuse its subject as distracted.

Whether Ouida’s vision of men is parergic or parodic depends on whether we read it as undermining or supporting that masculinity. I think her version of muscular literary power in her early work walks a tightrope between parergy and parody: can we say with absolute conviction that her early work parergically supports its models while failing to live up to them or parodically undermines them by exaggerating and revealing? It does both, sometimes simultaneously but mainly, I think, it lurches from one to the other from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, page to page. The reader is in any case left uncertain, able to take from it in the end what she or he wants. Indeed, the ability of Ouida’s writing to have it both ways in terms of gender is one of the secrets of its success, and why it gives us such scope to write about this author and gender in what seems a mini-Ouida revival in the teens of the twenty-first century.

Over a hundred years after her death, we have started to find ways of reading Ouida again.

 

Ouida and the Parergic 1.

For perhaps a hundred years the idea that Ouida could ever have a serious relationship with high-status culture would have been laughable. Her contemporary critics thought her merely pretentious: she claims to be part of respectable culture but she can’t manage it, she emulates the high but doesn’t get it right.

lay figure
Artist’s Lay Figure from 1870

When the Saturday Review (12 July 1873) reviews Ouida’s Pascarèl, a novel set in the revolutionary Italy of the 1860s, it begins by announcing that Ouida’s

“chief literary quality is a flux of words and her dominant characteristic audacity. If we analyse her rushing gorgeous sentences, full of sound and colour as they are, we find only some poor, meagre, little thought as the residuum; and even when her phrases are sentimental, the action of her stories too often appeals to a prurient taste. Her ideas are like an artist’s lay figure, the same thing draped up in a dozen different costumes, but always the same thing underneath, and that thing wooden.”

Ouida can’t, according to this witty reviewer,  be bothered to move from the “lay figure” to real people: she remains all pose (as Malcolm Elwin described her in his 1930s book Victorian Wallflowers).

Now when I used  the term defined in a previous post, “parergic,” to refer to a failed emulation of high culture that did not undermine but supported it, I wanted to get away from the value judgement implied by the terms “pretentious” (or words often used in a similar way, like “imitative” or “derivative”) to help us think about what was at stake: what are the violent hierarchies we participate in, unconsciously or otherwise, when we dismiss a writer as laughably pretentious? Sometimes the violence takes place in the field of culture, at other times of class, gender, race, age, disability and so on. Sometimes consumer identity which may be “horizontal” rather than vertical is at issue, whereby for instance, supporters of one successful pop group will deny the validity of another which is, in the field at large, in a very similar cultural position. At all times the issue is tribal status: “we” are better than the failed “them”. My deployment of the term “parergy” was intended to create an analytic  distance from those struggles, to stand outside them insofar as such is possible (that one cannot stand outside entirely doesn’t mean one shouldn’t try).

Now how far can parergy be related to Ouida’s early work?

First to note is  that the critics’ view of Ouida as pretentious only fully emerges after her identity as a woman is revealed. Early comments on her work in periodicals – she had started to contribute to Bentley’s Miscellany in 1859 – suggest that the critics thought “Ouida” a clever gentleman who wrote “brilliant nothings” for pleasure (see e.g. Morning Post 4 February 1862:3). They even thought Ouida  had seen military service. So thorough was the deception that the Standard (8 May 1862: 6) wryly interpreted Ouida’s temporary absence from Bentley’s in May 1862 as a possible sign that the author had decided it was too vulgar to write in such a magazine:

“What has become of him? Has he got a notion that it is plebeian to write, or is he only taking a rest from his arduous labours as the chronicler of mythical swelldom?”

Ouida’s morality – but, more, “discretion” – were issues that some papers took issue with: the The Morning Post (8 May 1865: 2) didn’t like “his” article on duelling for the Army and Navy Review mainly because “he” dared to voice opinions that should have been kept within “his” set.

By 1866 that the name referred to a woman author was already public: The Sporting Gazette of June 23 that year refers to her as “she” confirming The Pall Mall Gazette‘s outing of Ouida as a woman in its review of Strathmore (4 May), in which it had defined her novel as “the hen book to ‘Guy Livingstone'” (on which novel see below) and proceeded to slash it for, exactly, pretention:

The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Friday, May 4, 1866  2 review of strathmore Ouida outed cropped
Pall Mall Gazette, 4 May 1866

Soon, Ouida’s real identity becomes more and more public. The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald  (23 October 1866: 4) even relates how “she” had spent her childhood in Bury. The next post will think through more specifically the implications of this for an understanding of the parergic.