​Helena Esser

About this book

This new study of Marie Louise de la Ramée (1839-1908), who wrote under the pseudonym Ouida, considers the best-selling Victorian author’s vivid, evocative work and especially the complex, even complicated ways in which she envisions and portrays gender.

Ouida’s oeuvre, which includes non-fiction, short stories, and around forty novels over a forty-year writing period, and which was translated into more than ten foreign languages, is as diverse and unpredictable as the writer herself. She considered herself a francophile and cosmopolitan, moved from a London salon to a Florentine villa, and remained unmarried and self-supporting. Her work, which was admired by such contemporaries as John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde, and Marie Corelli, and which earned her a reputation as ‘the English Zola’, was noted for its vivid prose, high drama, and causal disregard for established moral conventions, particularly regarding gender. In turns associated with sensation fiction, social critique, and aestheticism, her novels’ unifying trait is that they defied, and continue to defy, expectations.

Ouida wrote a critical desert adventure decades before the generations of Rider Haggard, General Gordon, or T.E. Lawrence. She satirised the marriage market and its social conventions, in turns bitterly and brilliantly funny, in her 1880 novel ‘Moths’, before the advent of New Woman fiction, a term she helped coin even as she remained critical of the figure. She had high moral standards for her characters, yet sent female spies and soldiers, and a multitude of happy adulteresses adventuring across European high society, without subjecting them to Victorian narrative justice that haunts the Fallen Woman. She willingly portrayed social taboos such as extramarital affairs, blackmail, or marital abuse, in her highly stylised and entertaining novels.

This study discusses Ouida’s life and reception as a popular female author, skilful narrator, and fierce libertarian.

 About the author

Helena Esser completed her PhD on Urban Imaginaries of Victorian London in Steampunk Fiction at Birkbeck College in 2020, and pursued her interest in Ouida alongside. She has published on steampunk in the London Literary Journal (11:2, 2014), Cahiers victoriens et éduardiens (87, 2018), Otherness: Essays & Studies (7:1, 2019), and Humanities (11: 1, 2022), and on neo-Victorianism in Neo-Victorian Studies (11:1, 2018) and the Victorian Popular Fictions Journal (2:1, 2020). She is currently co-organising the Victorian Popular Fiction Association’s reading group on ‘The Third Sex’. Her research on Ouida, which she has presented at the VPFA Annual Conferences, has been awarded the Greta Depedge PGR Prize 2019 and received honorary mention in the 2020 Margaret Elize Harkness Prize.​

Available 2023

ISBN 9781915115140  Hardback    £55.00  Order
ISBN 9781915115157  Paperback  £29.99  Order ISBN 9781915115164  eBook          £29.99  Order
​216 x 140 mm. c. 230 pp.

Key Popular Women Writers series no.8.


Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd.