Encounters with Ouida with Jesse Erickson

Biographical and journalistic accounts of the Victorian period novelist and essayist, Ouida (born Marie Louise Ramé), often include anecdotal encounters of her varying from the chance sighting to multiple visits in published conversations. These stories, which circulated in published form, would be repackaged, cited, and drawn upon in reviews of her work. Yet, scholarly conversations that both rely upon and interrogate the veracity of such anecdotes have produced a paradoxical binary in which, on the one hand, historical methodology rooted in documentary evidence must distance itself from hinging truth claims upon these anecdotes in the absence of supportive records, and other the hand, the stories, which in some cases have developed their own canonicity through various repeated iterations, are inevitably woven into arguments as part of the historical record. In this paper, I argue that given Ouida’s complicated relationship with the press coupled with her resistance to the archival preservation of her personal life, the published anecdote cannot be disentangled from our understanding of the author, more as a celebrity spectacle than as an intimately-known literary figure. By looking closely at the relationship between published reviews and published accounts, I will show that the epistemological binary that divides the empirical from the speculative has always been messy, porous, and based more on our investments in advancing a claim to the historical truth than our ability to separate, definitively, fact from fiction