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Ouida (January 1, 1839 - January 25, 1908) was the pseudonym of the English novelist Maria Louise Ramé (although she preferred to be known as Marie Louise de la Ramée).
Ramé was born in Bury St. Edmunds, England, to a French father and an English mother. She derived her pen name from her own childish pronunciation of her given name "Louise".
During her career, she wrote more than 40 novels, children's books and collections of short stories and essays. She was an animal rights activist and animal rescuer, and at times owned as many as thirty dogs. For many years she lived in London, but about 1874 she went to Italy, where she died.
Ouida's work had several successive phases during her career. During her early period, her novels were a hybrid of the sensationalism of the 1860s and the proto-adventure novels that were being published in part as a romanticization of imperial expansion. Later her work was more typically historical romance, though she never stopped comment on contemporary society. She also wrote several stories for children. One of her most famous novels, Under Two Flags, described the British in Algeria in the most extravagant of terms, while nonetheless also expressing sympathy for the French - with whom Ouida deeply identified - and, to some extent, the Arabs. This book was staged in plays (and subsequently to be made into at least three movies). Jack London cites her novel Signa, which describes an unschooled Italian peasant child who achieves fame as an opera composer, and which he read at age eight, as one of the eight reasons for his literary success.
Herself physically of short stature and with a "voice like a carving knife", during her early years she adorned herself in diaphanous gowns, often surrounded herself with flowers and commanded salons at the Langham Hotel (at times lying in bed) that included soldiers, politicians, literary lights, and artists. Convinced of her own ability to influence foreign policy through a combination of womanly wiles and strategic brilliance, she made suggestions to some of her famous visitors that they at least to her face seemed to take seriously. The heroine of another well-known novel, Idalia (which she claimed to have written at 16), was a rebel/ingenue sympathetic to Italian independence. Later, while living in France and Italy, Ouida continued to host locals and expatriates alike at her gatherings.
Ouida considered herself a serious artist, and felt comparisons to merely popular contemporaries trivialized her. She was inspired by Byron in particular, and was interested in other artists of all kinds. Sympathetic descriptions of tragic painters and singers occurred in her later novels. Her work often combines romanticism with social criticism, however. In one novel, Puck, a talking dog narrates his views on society. Views and Opinions includes essays on a variety of social topics written in her own voice.
Although successful, she did not manage her money well and died poor on January 25, 1908, in Viareggio, Italy. She is buried in the English Cemetery in Bagni di Lucca, Italy. Soon after her death a public subscription purchased and built a fountain for horses and dogs in Bury St Edmunds, with an inscription composed by Lord Curzon: "Her friends have erected this fountain in the place of her birth. Here may God's creatures whom she loved assuage her tender soul as they drink.".
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