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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: March 2010

10 - Ouida and the other New Woman

Summary

[T]here are conspicuous at the present two words which designate unmitigated bores: The Workingman and the New Woman

Ouida

Ouida's antifeminism was vocal; her denunciation of the New Woman did as much to lend currency to the term as feminist apologists did. That antifeminism, combined with stylistic extravagance, has contributed to render Ouida invisible within today's canon, in which she can be classified neither as canonical nor as a feminist foremother. Yet, Ouida's fiction is not simply opposed to the interests of New Women novelists. Certainly, for example, Ouida is a believer in aristocratic privilege; her reasons, however, are embedded in notions of eugenics which inform much New Woman writing. Her hatred of socialism is curiously mixed – though a resolute defender of private property, her main critique of the redistribution of power appears in the Italian novels as a critique of abuses which are liable to occur in the opportunism attending social transition, particularly sexual abuse of women. Her partisanship of animal rights is specifically connected to women's abuse under patriarchy as it often is in New Woman fiction. Ouida is wholly opposed to Female Suffrage and the New Woman, but in part for reasons which are aligned with the reasoning of New Women like George Egerton and Victoria Cross, who see in women's sexuality a power distinct from the power of men. In short, Ouida's conservatism is formulated through a radical rhetoric.

Many of Ouida's characters anticipate the New Woman. Most importantly for our purposes here, her portrayal of women often licenses extramarital sexuality as an expression of a higher ethical standard in a world wherein marriage is corrupted by the profit motive.