chapter  3
18 Pages

‘Between Men’: Romantic Friendship in Ouida’s Early Novels

ByJane Jordan

To analyze Ouida’s early novels is to face a conundrum: why would a Victorian woman writer choose to masquerade as a male author and write novels for an exclusively male readership (‘mes frères’) narratives that predominantly chart romantic friendships between men? Why choose to detail exclusively male spheres of life – the race-course, the smoking-room, club land, barrack life and military action – spheres of which she could have no personal knowledge? While it is true that Ouida cultivated the acquaintance of male society, in particular military men, following her move to a suite of rooms at the Langham Hotel in 1867, the fourth of her male romances, Under Two Flags, was by then already mid-serialization. The chronology gives a lie to the myth propounded by her first publisher, William Tinsley, and taken as fact by her biographers, that Ouida furnished her early fiction with military anecdotes supplied by her male dinner guests whom she encouraged to talk freely: ‘Now, gentlemen, suppose my mother and I are out of the room. Smoke and drink as if you were at the club; talk as if you were in the smoking-room there; never think about us’.1 Florence Marryat, who met Ouida at Chapman & Hall’s offices, but was plainly not invited to these parties at the Langham, heard that Ouida ‘never allowed anybody to visit her at her house [sic], except men’.2