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‘Suicide: Popular? Obscene? The case of Ouida’s Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874)’

‘Suicide: Popular? Obscene? The case of Ouida’s Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874)’

King, Andrew ORCID: 0000-0003-2348-4231 (2016) ‘Suicide: Popular? Obscene? The case of Ouida’s Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874)’. In: Annual Conference of the British Association for Victorian Studies, 31 August - 2 September 2016, University of Cardiff. (Unpublished)

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Two Little Wooden Shoes was one of the most popular texts by Ouida, printed and consumed in at least 4 continents and 11 languages. Ouida is best known today for having written the first novel (Moths, 1880) in which a divorced woman ends happily, and for Under Two Flags which popularised the notion of the French Foreign Legion. Both of those focus on high society heroes and heroines and a corrupt society given over to consumerism.

But Ouida also had another strand to her writing, stories focusing on the very poor in collision with the wealthy, of which Two Little Wooden Shoes is an early example. It concerns a nameless Flemish foundling who falls in love with a bourgeois painter from Paris. Though flattered by her infatuation, he does not sexually seduce her and simply returns to France after her usefulness as his model is done. Besotted, she eventually follows him to Paris where she finds him in bed with a prostitute. Her illusions destroyed, she throws herself in the river. Reviews at the time were no more critical than usual for Ouida, and there was a good deal of praise too (e.g. the Morning Post, April 27, 1874, p.3 thought that Ouida ‘had never imagined a more pathetic history’).

There are three operatic versions, an Italian, a Hungarian and a French. Each of them alters the end of the story in significant ways - all different - that collectively point to the unrepresentability on the stage of a woman's taking charge of her fate through suicide when she is technically unfallen. While popular in print media, the heroine's suicide was, in other words, obscene - too controversial for the stage. Through its exploration of transmediation and the transnational circulation of narrative, the paper locates controversy in specific markets, specific media and hence specific communities defined by their consumption of limited kinds of narrative.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ouida; opera; adaptation; popular fiction; suicide; Victorian popular women novelists
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2020 12:33

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