« AnteriorContinuar »
A WORD ABOUT "OUIDA".
THERE are a large number of self-styled "superior" people in the literary world who make it a sort of rule to treat with vague laughter and somewhat unintelligent contempt the novels of the gifted Madame de la Ramé, known to the reading public as “Ouida”. Men, particularly, profess to be vastly amused with the heroes she depicts; the splendid “muscular" types of masculine beauty, the wondrous individuals who “drench” their beards and moustaches with perfume, smoke scented cigars and run through millions of money in no time; and it may readily be admitted that numerous excrescences in the shape of over-floridness, unnecessary exaggeration of character and sensuousness of suggestion, do, to a great extent, spoil works that would, but for these defects, take their place in the highest rank of modern literature.
But, when all is said and done, the fact remains, that “Ouida" is a woman of genius. Not Talent, merely, but Genius. In the opinion of many judges, this genius may be considered as a flower growing in a perfect wilderness of brambles and rough fern, yet the flower is there all the same, and the unprejudiced eye will at once discover it. Nothing is so easy as to find fault; everyone can do that, from the little penny-aliner up to the full-blown, “slashing” swash-buckler critic for the literary Reviews; yet, to read books in the mere spirit of fault-finding, is, I humbly venture to assert, to read them wrongly. To take up a novel, poem or essay with the mental determination to look for its imperfections is the greatest mistake in the world. Imperfections can be found in all the masterpieces of Literature, from Homer and Catullus downwards. We can, if we so choose, sit on our three-legged stool of criticism and sneer at all the gods. Homer is too lengthy--we are bored with his shipping list. Plato is too didactic. Dante and Byron are too personal; they insist on their own private wrongs too flagrantly. Keats is too, too sweet; his honey cloys our lips! Shelley is obscure and full of moon-struck misty vagaries. And Shakespeare -- ah! we pause at Shakespeare. What shall we say of him? Well, if we are of the Donellyass persuasion, we can bray forth our belief that he was Bacon; if we belong to Mrs. Grundy's school, we can whisper that in certain of his allusions he is decidedly improper! And so with everything and everybody. And because a few reviewers jest lightly, and more or less sneeringly at the “Ouida” social types, we
are apt to pass on the sneer and repeat the jest without giving the author whom we condemn the fair chance
own unbiassed examination. Yet reviewers, though they pose as Oracles, are, after all, only men; and difficult as it may be to believe a fact so bare of chivalry it is pretty certain that many a male author is ungallantly jealous of a woman's brain that proves in any respect sharper, quicker and more subtle than his
Hence we find most professional men-critics somewhat contemptuous and intolerant of women's literary attainments (vide the largest half of the masculine criticism bestowed on the more highly distinguished female authors, such as Mrs. Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Georges Sand and others of that calibre); they are more willing to give the helping word of praise to any member of their own sex who makes the mildest and most random “hit” of one season; especially if such an individual happens to have taken club-shares in the “Great Firm of Perpetual Log-Rolling and Press-Favour Limited," which does such excellent business for its supporters. Women-reviewers are comparatively few, and when they do take to the reviewing line of business, it is very frequently after they have failed as novelists. Now, to expect feminine non-success to applaud feminine triumph would surely be like asking women to become full-fledged angels at once, without giving them time to grow their wings! As for ourselves, who read, or pretend to read, the books we so glibly chatter about, we too often "skip" through novels; we get a crude idea of the story without for one instant taking the trouble to disentangle the thread of thought on which it is hung. In the case, however, of absolute, turgid incoherent incomprehensibility, such as is found in Mr. George Meredith's fictionary efforts, and Browning's verse, we are so thoroughly in the dark that a reckless, maddened few of us will actually start "societies” to elucidate the mysteries wherewith we, being only endowed with a little common-sense, cannot sanely and comfortably grapple. True, the “societies” only muddle our brains a trifle more by their explanatory "systems," but then it is a relief to think we can at least shift the burden of trying to understand the non-understandable on somebody else's shoulders, even though that somebody else should, in the end, prove to be as incorrigibly stupid as we are!
Now “Ouida” is not a darkly sybilline writer. No one need puzzle over her utterances, for these are in many respects almost too plain for the grimly pious satisfaction of good Mother Grundy! Moreover, no excuse whatever can be found for the perverted view of life this gifted author insists on holding up to the public eye as the only prospect possible on our already too dark and sin-clouded human horizon. Bad as society may be, we like to think that there is good lurking somewhere beneath its evil scum; bereft of beauty and desolate as an age of cynicism and gold-gathering selfishness always is, we like to hope that it may prove a mere passing storm-cloud, clearing the sky, perchance, for brighter and more wholesome weather. Why, therefore, “Ouida’s” characters of good women should, as a rule, be foolish, and come to a miserably undeserved end, while her characters of courtesans and cocottes should nearly always be triumphant, is a question that only “Ouida” herself can answer. Recognizing as I do, the force of her inspiration, it is a matter of both wonder and regret to me that her brilliant pen has so often been used for the depicting of social enormities and moral sores; but while deploring the fact I still assert: Genius, Genius-not mere talent-is in this woman. And it is my habit to honour Genius, as a lightningmessage from the gods, where ever and however it flashes across my path. I have never met Madame de la Ramé, and certain well-intentioned persons have assured me that should I ever venture into her presence, I should probably meet with a rough reception, "as," say the gossips, “she hates her own sex.” This may be, or it may not; but as I never pin my faith on rumour, I am inclined to give “Ouida” the benefit of the doubt. At all events, no brusquerie on her part would alter or pervert in the least the current of a certain homage on mine. I cannot, for example, withhold my honest adThe Hired Baby, etc.