The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 20. G. A. Lawrence and Ouida
Current moral, religious and domestic ideals, reflected in books such as The Heir of Redclyffe (1853), John Halifax, Gentleman (1857) and Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) illustrate the diversity of the exhortations to which the mid-Victorian era submitted; but in the heyday of the preachers and prophets there were mockers and indifferentists as well as enthusiasts. The standard of positive rebellion was raised by two writers chiefly, George Alfred Lawrence and Ouida (Louise de la Ramée), who chose as her audience “les militaires,” suggesting that they left convention to those who cared to regard it. Guy Livingstone, 1857, Lawrence’s most characteristic book, is laughable in its florid satanism; nevertheless, it has a certain gross power in its portrayal of the social buccaneer, Livingstone, with his vast physical proportions, his untold lawless amours, his insatiable thirst for adventure and blood, and his speech, blended of sporting slang and classical allusion. The historical innovation which Lawrence effects is the endowment of the superhumanly immoral person with heroic qualities and social aplomb. Muscular blackguardism, composed of Byronic and berserker traits (Carlyle and others having brought the sagas into fashion) replaces muscular Christianity. In her early novels of society, Ouida is of the lineage of Lawrence; like him, she extends the world of Vivian Grey and Pelham on the side of sport; for, total ignorance, except by hearsay, did not prevent her from writing voluminously and with diverting inaccuracy upon every kind of masculine affair. She created artists of the sated Byronic type, and, in especial, superbly insolent guardsmen, exquisite animals, basking in exotic luxury, affecting languor and boredom in the midst of prodigious heroism, equally irresistible in the boudoir, the chase and the battlefield and faithful even in death to their singular code of loyalty. The type is worth notice because it forms the model of the aristocratic hero of novelette literature. For her delineation, in flushed and ornate language, of these military heroes and their world, Ouida has suffered the full measure of ridicule. In truth, her world is operatic rather than romantic, twice removed from reality; nevertheless, within it, she has many gifts, emotional energy, narrative power, the sense of action, a conception of heroism and fidelity, an eye for beauty of scene whether of the warm luxuriance of Italy or of the cooler flower-haunted-spaces of Brabant. Her vivandière Cigarette, in Under Two Flags (1867), comes near to poetry, in her last ride and death; as does the deserted Italian child Musa of In Maremma (1882), in her innocence, devotion and suffering. When she curbs her constitutional extravagance, Ouida has command of moving pathos and of a purer style, as in the idyllic Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874), in the best of her animal stories A Dog of Flanders (1872) and in some of the children’s stories in Bimbi (1882), Though her flamboyant style is now out of date, Ouida’s outspokenness, rebellious instinct and not altogether specious cosmopolitanism played some part in widening the scope of the novel.
One other considerable development, due to lesser novelists, remains to be chronicled—a new form of the novel of crime, in which the interest turns upon pursuit and detection. Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794) is a tentative anticipation. A great fillip was given to the type by the publication in France of Vidocq’s Mémoires in 1828–9 (Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue is of the year 1841). An early example in England is the Paul Ferroll (1855), of Mrs. Archer Clive (who is identical with the poetess V. appreciated in Horae Subsecivae). Paul Ferroll is an admirably restrained story of concealed crime; the interest, however, is not that of detection, but of the approaching moment at which the murderer must confess in order to save innocent suspects.