Ouida’s Rhetoric of Empathy: A Case Study in Victorian Anti-Vivisection Narrative

  • Mary Sanders Pollock


Ouida, born in 1839 as Maria Louise Ramé, grew up in the small town of Bury St. Edmonds, a few hours northeast of London. During her childhood, she was surrounded by an attentive extended family and imaginatively inspired by an affectionate (though usually absent) father, whose desultory labors as a French master seem to have been a cover for his real work as an agent for Louis Napoleon.2 Louis Ramé’s influence was erratic, but it was profound: from him, Ouida learned to love the French realists, especially Balzac, and to hate bourgeois politics, society, and religion. In 1857, Ouida moved with her mother and grandmother to London. Two years later, she began a long and wildly successful writing career with the publication of her first short story, “Dashwood’s Drag; or, The Derby and What Came of It,” in Bentley’s Miscellany. Soon, her work was so commercially successful that she was able to support her small family in lavish style. She moved to Italy, settled in a villa with her mother and their dogs, and traveled widely throughout Europe. On one of those journeys, the ménage landed for a period back in London, where Ouida set up for a few months in the luxurious Langham Hotel, entertaining such luminaries as Robert Browning and Oscar Wilde, Henry James and Edward Bulwer Lytton, the explorer Richard Burton and his wife Isabel, famous musicians, editors, MP’s, and ambassadors. In 1950, V. S. Pritchett described the (imagined) scene of her boudoir in an article written for the New Statesman and Nation :

One walked into the Langham Hotel out of the London daylight and was shown, at last, into a large, darkened apartment twinkling with candles. Heavy black velvet curtains were drawn over the windows; masses of exotic flowers were banked against them and, enthroned in an enormous bed in the midst of all this sat the genius: a small, ugly, dank-eyed woman with her hair down her back, scratching away fast with a quill pen on large sheets of violettinted paper and throwing each sheet on to the floor when it was done with. A large dog guarded the morning’s work from the visitor’s touch. One had gone to have one’s head bitten off either by Ouida or her dog.3


Nonhuman Animal Happy Ending Subsequent Reference Animal Cruelty Narrative Style 
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Copyright information

© Mary S. Pollock and Catherine Rainwater 2005

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  • Mary Sanders Pollock

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