Ouida 1839-1908

Ouida – Marie Louise Rame

Ouida was the pen name of Maria Louise Rame, a Victorian writer who published more than forty novels and many short stories. She was enormously popular, outspoken, opinionated and considered rather racy in her day. Writing for a wide audience, her topics included observations of contemporary society and contemporary romance. Many of her novels were thinly veiled protests against social evils and a rebellion against moral ideals displayed in contemporary fiction [1]. She was an anti-vivisectionist, standing up for animal rights in a time when vivisection was considered perfectly acceptable to push the boundaries of medical knowledge. Ouida believed, that the line between experimentation on animals and experimenting on humans was easily crossed. She wrote a journal article entitled ‘The Scientific Torture of Lunatics. A Protest’ in 1897, expressing concerns that pauper lunatics were used as subjects for medical experimentation [2]. 

Ouida held a low opinion of the medical profession, perhaps because of their role in vivisection. Her 1892 essay proclaimed that doctors were only ‘intelligent artisans’, a parvenu profession, on a rank with ‘the merchant , the shipowner, the engineer and the banker all distinguished by their grasping dishonestly and insincerity’ [3]. She noted that physicians were not ‘gentlemen’. She claimed that doctors came from socially rising families who hid their modest origins behind the veneer of public school and university education purchased by their father’s success. Although this last comment was intended as an insult, it was certainly true for Dr Montagu Lomax.

Lomax was a great admirer of Ouida’s writings on female modesty, and referenced her several times in his lectures “Woman in relation to physiology, sex, emotions and intellect’[4]. 

Ouida may have written to shock, or perhaps to promote discussion. Her novels sold well making her a fortune which she squandered on a lavish life style and entertaining. She attracted some of the greatest literary minds to her soirees, including Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins and Robert Browning. She never married. The latter part of her life was spent in Florence, Italy where she died in penury in 1908

Bibliography

1. Shaw, B., Bernard Shaw’s Book Reviews: 1884-1950, ed. B. Tyson. 1991: Penn State Press.

2. Ouida, The Scientific Torture of Lunatics. A Protest. Humanity, 1897. 2: p. 82-4.

3. Ouida, The Medical Profession and its Morality, in The Modern Review. 1892, Snow & Farnham.

4. Lomax-Smith, M., WOMAN in relation to physiology, sex ,emotion and intellect. 1895, Christchurch, New Zealand: Russell and Willis. 91.

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