chapter  9
18 Pages

Politicizing the Aesthetic:Ouida’s Transnational Critique of Modernity

ByRichard Ambrosini

In The Forgotten Female Aesthetes, Talia Schaffer argues that Ouida not only ‘popularized the glamorous world of aesthetic fashion and decoration’, but also ‘standardized the genre of the aesthetic novel’ later developed by such writers as George Meredith, Oscar Wilde, and J.K. Huysman. In tracing the ‘evolution of the female aesthetic subject’, Schaffer focuses on Ouida’s treatment of gender and commodities, while acknowledging the importance of examining the development of her ‘social conscience [and] regional fiction’, and in particular her ‘“Italian” novels’.1 What require investigation are the overt political overtones acquired by Ouida’s aestheticism. Read in conjunction with Ouida’s essays on Italy in English and those on Britain in Italian, the ‘Italian’ corpus can enrich and complicate the picture of her entire literary output. From her location on (or near) the periphery of Europe, in a country she had recreated as a model of imperiled beauty, the bestselling author, it will be argued, found the required terms for critiquing a modernity that she read as a process of cultural homogenization which exported all that she despised in an imperial Britain that she had come to believe had lost its soul.