Although once best-selling novelist Marie Louise de La Ramée (as she liked to be called) AKA Ouida (as she was best known as) spent much of her time in Scandicci and Viareggio she will always be associated principally with Bagni di Lucca,
There are two places in the comune which acknowledge their intimate connection with Ouida. The first is the hotel where she stayed in Ponte a Serraglio which carries this plaque on its side:
(Ouida, Louise de la Ramée, English writer, lover of Italy, friend of animals, lived here in 1904 and 1905)
The ex-hotel, a fine building in its own right built by Pardini and once known as la Casa Niccolai or the Hotel de Russie (were the Russians already attracted to this part of the world back in the nineteenth century?), provided Ouida’s summer accommodation away from the torrid heat of Florence. I wonder how the hotel management would have coped with her beloved dogs; I suppose most of the thirty-odd pooches she owned would have remained at her Villa Farinola near Florence.
The other location is Ouida’s final resting place in Bagni di Lucca’s cimitero degli inglesi – more appropriately called the protestant cemetery since the entombed are not restricted to English persons but include other nationalities such as Polish and American.
I visited the cemetery the other day and have changed my mind about the authoress’s restored tomb. It is very well done indeed, should last for at least another hundred years and is also a fine memorial to an Ouida authority’s deceased wife – the same authority who chaired a very interesting conference on the author some years ago in Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican church, now the library.
(Before and after restoration)
Ouida was well-considered by many literary figures during her life-time. Jack London, for instance, regarded her as inspiring his own writing career. She is certainly a cut above such contemporaries as Marie Corelli. Her books cover a wide variety of subjects from peasant life in the Maremma to colonial expansion in Algeria and, in my opinion, still require considerable reassessment. I would suggest her first major hit “Two little wooden shoes” as a good reading start although my particular favourite is her last novel “The Waters of Edera”, a fine and gripping piece of writing.
Indeed, “Two little wooden Shoes” was considered a fitting subject for an opera libretto by no-one less than Giacomo Puccini himself. The project, however, came to nothing although in 1917 Puccini’s student friend Pietro Mascagni composed an opera “Lodoletta” based on the same story.
What Ouida lacked in her life were three important persons: a manager to deal with her financial affairs which, through her great extravagances (she wore specially designed clothes by the famous Worth of Paris which apparently did not suit her one little bit), left her in penury towards the end of her life, an editor for her novels which to the modern reader appear in large prolifically verbose; and a constant and prudent lover who might have constrained her eccentricities a little – like that notice she put outside her reception parties: “please leave morals and umbrellas in the hall”.
Born in Bury St. Edmunds in 1839 and dying in Viareggio in 1908, Ouida belongs ultimately to that class of novelists who attracted great fame in their lives but were quickly forgotten after their deaths. I do not wish to compare her to certain recently deceased novelists of this ilk except to say that the “pink” lady could have taught Ouida something about the good management of her literary prowess.
Finally, it is to the shame of the Bury St Edmund’s town council that they in no way supported Bagni di Lucca’s appeal to restore the tomb of one of their most distinguished daughters – although on Louise de la Ramée’s death her friends did erect by public subscription a drinking fountain memorial with this inscription 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.