Ouida

Baptism record of Ouida, 1839 (FL545/4/8)

Baptism record of Ouida, 1839 (FL545/4/8)

Born at 14 Hospital Road, Bury St Edmunds on 1 January 1839, Marie Louise Rame became one of the most prolific and successful female Victorian novelists. Ouida, her pen name was derived from her childish attempts to pronounce Louise. Ouida published several stories in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1859, writing her first novel Idalia aged just 16. Her first published novel was Held in Bondage which also appeared in Bentley’s as a serial in 1863. Throughout the rest of her life, she insisted on using Ouida as her pseudonym so she could keep her private life separate from her public one.

In 1867, Ouida and her mother moved into a suite of rooms at the Langham Hotel in London. There, she proceeded to entertain soldiers who had served in India, Africa and the Crimea, gathering information for her later novels. Wearing dresses made specially for her by top fashion designer Worth, she surrounded herself with exotic purple flowers. She wrote lying on her bed in large flamboyant writing in purple ink. It is estimated she was making £5000 a year at this time, so she could afford her lavish life style. Foreign editions of her books were extremely successful especially in America. She dedicated Tricotrin published in 1869 to the American people.

At the height of her fame, in 1871, she left England and settled into a villa on the outskirts of Florence with her mother.  She wrote her most successful book Under Two Flags two years later, following that a year later with an instant bestseller – Moths. None of her subsequent books were as popular, and as she was unable to curb her lavish lifestyle, she ended up moving from house to house, selling off possessions and furniture.

She embarked on a series of lawsuits with her publishers, claiming they were swindling her out of royalties for her backlist of novels. At the same time she changed her style of writing to crusade against animal suffering which was less popular with her readers. She rescued large numbers of stray dogs, struggling to keep them as she descended into poverty.

In July 1907 the Daily Mirror published an article on Ouida to highlight her plight. (Subsequently it was claimed the picture was of an unknown peasant woman). Friends in England, led by the Cullum family petitioned for her to be granted a pension from the Civil List of £150 per year. They also wanted to donate the proceeds of the 1907 Bury Pageant to her, but she refused to accept the gift.

Invitation to the opening of the Ouida memorial, 1909 (EE500/43/25)

Invitation to the opening of the Ouida memorial, 1909 (EE500/43/25)

Ouida died in Italy on 25 January 1908. A memorial fund was started by the Daily Mirror. The memorial was erected in Bury St Edmunds in 1909.