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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Jesse Erickson

I have been passionate about reading for practically as long as I can remember. I tend to read books and periodicals from a diverse range of periods, genres, literary traditions, and communities. Among the literary subgenres I enjoy most are Victorian popular fiction and Neo-Victorian Steamfunk.

Out of all the works that I consume textually, no other author has captured my imagination in the way that Victorian period author Ouida (b. Maria Louise Ramé, 1839-1908) has with her many novels, novellas, and short story collections. I binge read all twenty-six of her three-decker novels, eventually reading her entire corpus, or every piece of her writing that I could get my hands on in the span of about five or six years.

I have been collecting Ouida since I first discovered her work in 2013. Since then, I have acquired at least one copy of nearly every title (fifty of her fifty-two published works), including most of the American first editions available on the market as well as a few British first editions. I have also purchased rare examples of Ouida’s periodical publications and manuscript correspondence, Ouida-related ephemera, comic books, manga, toys, DVDs, and even a video game adaptation of one her best known stories, A Dog of Flanders (1872).

“Dashwood’s Drag; or, the Derby and What Came of it.”

Ouida.
“Dashwood’s Drag; or, the Derby and What Came of it.”
Bentley’s Miscellany XLV. W. Harrison Ainsworth, editor.
London: Richard Bentley, April -May 1859.

Ouida’s lucrative career as an author began at the young age of twenty. She moved from Bury St. Edmunds to London in 1857 with her mother and grandmother after her father, Louis Ramé, abandoned the family. While in London, Ouida became acquainted with Dr. William Francis Ainsworth, who provided medical advice for Ouida’s ailing grandmother. By connecting with Ainsworth’s cousin, Harrison, the relationship produced her first publication. Seen here, “Dashwood’s Drag” was an immediate success.  

Under Two Flags. Blanche Bates Souvenir Edition

Ouida.
Under Two Flags. Blanche Bates Souvenir Edition.
New York and Boston: H. M. Caldwell, 1902.
 

Although Ouida’s popularity had waned by the beginning of the twentieth century, her legacy began shifting toward the adaptation of her most enduring titles. Among them, Under Two Flags (1867) was the subject of numerous theatrical adaptations as well as several popular cinematic versions of the novel that were released between 1912 and 1936. The handsomely designed Blanche Bates edition of the novel features photographic scenes from the 1901 Broadway play directed by David Belasco.  

Ouida. Carte de Visite.

Adolphe Paul Auguste Beau.
Ouida. Carte de Visite.

London Stereoscopic and Photographic Co., ca. 1865.

An eccentric celebrity, Ouida had a complicated life-long relationship with the press. She was acutely sensitive of how she was portrayed but strictly against giving interviews. The result led to her misrepresentation as the subject of myriad rumors. To this day there are photographic images circulating claiming to be of Ouida, which in reality are not her at all. This carte de visite reproduces the most recognized of the only real photographs of the author.