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victorian review • Volume 34 Number 1 182 provides well researched, annotated, and polished materials that give readers a much deeper understanding of the artists whose work we think we know, by providing a glimpse into their early professional processes—a glimpse of potential and growth that leaves us wanting to learn more. K ather in e Fr a n k Colorado State University-Pueblo • Moths by Ouida, edited by Natalie Schroeder; pp. 627. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2005. $22.95 paper. When Moths, Ouida’s fifteenth novel, was first published, in 1880, it was savaged by critics like the anonymous reviewer from The Saturday Review, who wrote succinctly of the author’s popularity that “folly that would once have been treated with utter contempt is now highly rewarded” (547). Ouida’s prose, with its scathing critique of a vacuous society, its delineation of surprisingly complex characters, and its uniquely repetitive, adjective-packed style, is still capable of eliciting a strong response. The source of consternation for today’s readers, however, is not moral outrage at the novel’s flagrant excesses and unabashed sexual frankness, but its ability to force the academy to re-evaluate its persistent perception of Ouida as a hack writer whose novels were theVictorian equivalent of Mills and Boon or Harlequin. Given the surge of interest in sensation and other non-canonical women’s fiction, Broadview’s publication of Moths corrects an oversight, making available a sample of the prolific author’s output, all of which has been out of print in recent years. Perhaps less well known than UnderTwo Flags (1867), Moths invites the reader into an elaborately spun confection of scandal, sex, cynicism, and brutality among the scions of European society, in locales ranging from the French Riviera to the frozen expanses of the Polish countryside. While the novel is wildly entertaining, a quick read despite its 543 pages, and easily accessible to less experienced readers, closer perusal reveals the dexterity with which Ouida handles her characters and her unacknowledged forays into psychological realism. Outwardly, the plot itself offers little in the way of novelty.Vere Herbert, the sixteen-year-old heroine, is forced by her mother, Lady Dolly, into a loveless marriage with the profligate, cruel Prince Zouroff, despite her love for the famous tenor Corréze.The bulk of the novel takes place after the nuptials and deals withVere’s struggle to remain virtuous and unsullied by her environment, but it is in the depiction of jaded, amoral high society—whose members are the devouring moths of the title—that Ouida’s pen truly excels.The vain and calculating Lady Dolly, the novel’s manipulative prime mover, both fascinates 183 Reviews and repels with her eerily unchanging beauty and unscrupulous instinct for self-preservation; she shows no remorse after coercingVere to wed Zouroff by revealing her own sexual past with him.Additionally, Dolly’s utter worldliness provides outlets for Ouida’s wit.WhenVere, after being away from her mother for an extended period, turns up unexpectedly at Trouville in unfashionable brown holland, Lady Dolly greets her with the words, “‘IN THAT DRESS!’” (53). Ouida writes,“Lady Dolly could have slain her hundreds in that moment, had her sunshade but been of steel.To be made ridiculous!There is no more disastrous destiny under the sun” (53). Even less romanticized than the mother-daughter relationship, the dynamics governingVere and Zouroff’s interaction sound unexpected depths. Ouida unapologetically depicts Zouroff’s textbook sadism and the evident pleasure and status Vere extracts from her role as masochistic martyr. Furthermore, the text’s narrative authority floats from character to character, meaning that Moths is refreshingly devoid of moral prescriptivism and may even go so far as to suggest that allowing the moths to nibble—enjoying wealth, luxury, and frivolity—is relatively unobjectionable. This Broadview edition, edited by Natalie Schroeder, is hampered somewhat by its frustratingly amorphous introduction.Although Schroeder deserves credit for her attempt at thoroughness, the extensive range of topics covered in such a limited space results in a corresponding generality. Largely composed of received wisdom concerning the author and her works, the introduction has a breadth that may reflect Schroeder’s desire to avoid confining...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 182-184
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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