Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Toward an Entente Cordiale: The Cultivation of Cosmopolitan Sympathies in Ouida's under Two Flags

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Toward an Entente Cordiale: The Cultivation of Cosmopolitan Sympathies in Ouida's under Two Flags

Article excerpt

In her 1895 collection of essays, Views and Opinions, sensation novelist Ouida (nee Marie Louise de la Ramee) defines her masculine ideal in a discussion of Pierre Loft's, Le Livre de la Pitie et la Mort. A cosmopolitan and adventurist, Loti pursued both a naval career and a literary one. He served in the French navy and then drew on his experiences to produce a collection of critically acclaimed Orientalist fiction and travelogues before publishing his more obscure collection of reminiscences, Le Livre, in 1891. Ouida's love of cosmopolitan and imperial adventure draws her to Loti, whom she valorizes, characterizing him as a "daring and brilliant officer" whose career in the navy "has shown that he possesses moral as well as physical courage" (225). Moreover, as Ouida makes clear, Loti is also a man of exquisite sensibility and possesses a deeply sympathetic nature. She writes that he has a sympathetic spirit "wide as the ocean that has cradled and nursed him" (224), and that he "feels and feels intensely the similarity of sentiment between himself and all other forms of sentient life" (229). Loti's sympathetic connection with "all other forms of sentient life" enables him to recognize the value of his social relations. According to Ouida, he is "indifferent to his own interests and prospects when he is moved to indignation against the tyrannies of the strong over the weak" (225). Loti's indignant objection to social tyranny compelled him to publish a series of articles in 1883 detailing the atrocities committed during the French attack on the Vietnamese coastal defense of Hue at the Battle of Thuan An, which earned him official censure and a measure of public notoriety.

Ouida's description of Loti's masculinity which mingles bravery, sensibility, sympathy, and ethics, contrasts sharply with the protagonist of her earlier, best-selling sensation novel, Under Two Flags (1867), who miserably fails to live up to this ideal. An unflappable British aristocratic dandy, Bertie Cecil hails from an old Anglo-Norman family. Like Loti, Bertie serves his country as an officer in the British Army--where he is known as the "Beauty of the Brigades"--and pursues a cosmopolitan existence, feeling equally at home in Britain and the Continent. Where Loti's admirable qualities are on display for all to see, however, Bertie's more heroic qualities, including his bravery and sense of honor, are obscured by his mindless consumerism and the lack of discipline that lead him to squander his time and energy in a thoughtless pursuit of luxury, horse racing, gambling, women, and in his spare time, bad French novels. His generally thoughtless and reckless behaviors and habits blind him to his social obligations, and as a result, he nearly bankrupts his aristocratic estate, the House Royallieu, and jeopardizes the reputation of his married mistress. Bertie staves off the embarrassment for as long as possible, but finally a scandal involving his younger brother erupts. Refusing to ruin either the reputation of his aristocratic name or his married mistress, Bertie takes the high road and flees Britain, escaping to Europe with his faithful manservant Rake, where he gives up his aristocratic identity and enlists in the French Army as a common soldier. Bertie is sent to serve the French flag in Algeria, where he undergoes a remarkable transformation from a dissolute aristocratic dandy into a brave, heroic, sympathetic role model worthy of reclaiming his hereditary aristocratic title and rank.

Ouida's work in both Under Two Flags and Views and Opinions speaks to her conjoined interests in Victorian cosmopolitanism and Anglo-French relations. At the time Ouida was writing Under Two Flags, what had become known in diplomatic circles as the entente cordiale ("warm understanding") had developed between England and France. This "warm understanding"--which replaced hostile Anglo-French exchanges with cultural affirmation and sympathetic exchanges--became linked to commerce and eventually helped facilitate the rise of a commercial cosmopolitanism. …

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