Ramée, Louise de la (1839–1908)
Ramée, Louise de la (1839–1908)
Popular English novelist. Name variations: Louise de la Ramee; (pseudonym) Ouida. Born Marie Louise Ramé on January 1, 1839, at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England; died on January 25, 1908, in Viareggio, Italy; daughter of Louis Ramé (a French instructor) and Susan (Sutton) Ramé; educated in local schools.
Held in Bondage (1863); Chandos (1866); Under Two Flags (1867); Folle-Farine (1871); A Dog of Flanders and Other Tales (1872); Pascarel (1873); Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874); In a Winter City (1876); Moths (1880); Bimbi: Stories for Children (1882); Princess Naxaprine (1884); Views and Opinions (1895); Critical Studies (1900).
Louise de la Ramée was born on January 1, 1839, in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England, the daughter of Susan Sutton Ramé , an English-woman, and Louis Ramé, a French instructor. A precocious child, she received her early education in local schools and for a time lived with her family in Paris. Following her father's disappearance, Louise and her mother returned to England. There she met Harrison Ainsworth, the editor and owner of Bentley's Miscellany, in which her first story was published in 1859. Ainsworth also published her first full-length novel, Granville de Vigne, in another of his journals, the New Monthly Magazine. Granville de Vigne was subsequently published in three volumes under the title Held in Bondage (1863) and attributed to "Ouida." She would continue to use this pseudonym, which came from a childish mispronunciation of Louise, for subsequent books, and soon began using it in her personal life as well. (She also glamorized her last name from "Ramé" to "de la Ramée.") Held in Bondage, like later novels including Chandos (1866) and the hugely popular Under Two Flags (1867), depicts with a heavy dose of unreality the lives and loves of the privileged social classes in exotic surroundings, or, as one critic has more kindly put it, "the gallant adventures of dashing and fashionable heroes and heroines." The tale of a French Legionnaire torn between two women, Under Two Flags sold millions of copies and with the advent of the movie industry in the 20th century was filmed three times; the last version, made in 1936, starred Ronald Colman, Claudette Colbert , and Rosalind Russell .
Ramée published 45 novels, becoming quite wealthy, and frequently parodied, in the process. Blessed with a sure sense of her own importance (she has been called an egomaniac) and a convenient forgetfulness of her own middle-class background, she lived lavishly, in the presumed style of the upper class about which she wrote, and in Moths (1880) condemned its infiltration by lower-class poseurs. Having visited Italy frequently, in 1874 she moved to Florence, where she continued her extravagant lifestyle and frequently quarrelled with friends and her publishers. It is said that she received her guests in her villa standing upon a large white bearskin rug, wearing expensive clothes, and surrounded by
her beloved dogs. Her novels during this period include Folle-Farine (1871, called "a triumph of modern English fiction" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton), Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874) and Signa (1875); the popular children's tearjerker A Dog of Flanders and Other Tales was published in 1872. Bimbi: Stories for Children (1882) also proved quite popular. However, after she moved to Lucca, Italy, in 1894, her work began to fall out of favor, as the three-volume novel typical of the Victorian age began to give way to the single-volume novel. She abandoned fiction and wrote for the Fortnightly Review, Nineteenth Century, and North American Review both on literature and on causes dear to her heart, which included the campaign against women's suffrage, support for the Boers in South Africa, and the anti-vivisection campaign. Some of these essays were collected in Views and Opinions (1895) and Critical Studies (1900).
A close acquaintance described Ramée as "intensely cynical," and went on: "She despised humanity and attributed sordid and unworthy motives to innocent actions, and scoffed at virtue, domestic life, and fidelity." Because of her extravagant lifestyle and the sale of her copyrights—common with many women writers of the time—Ramée lived in near poverty in her later years. She received a civil-list pension in 1906 through the intervention of friends, and subsisted on this until her death from pneumonia in Viareggio, Italy, on January 25, 1908. She was buried in the English cemetery at Bagni di Lucca in Italy.
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Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont