I am one of those exceptionally lucky people who remain deeply in love with the author I wrote my Master's thesis and dissertation about. So many people I know emerge from their dissertation loathing the author and the texts they chose to write about; it's such an arduous process that it destroys the initial joy that inspires the academic work for a lot of people. But for me, Ouida remains as fun and fascinating as she was when I first encountered her the semester I spent as Natalie Schroeder's research assistant.
Ouida is so full of contradictions. On the one hand, she wrote deeply purple, melodramatic prose about convoluted situations. She loved to write bits of dialogue in foreign languages, and her command of them was often shaky. She was frequently derided in the press of her day for writing books that are licentious, frivolous, silly, pretentious. And yet, everyfuckingbody read her books because they were fun and funny and she could hit you in the id with such a delicious anvil. Her books are a romp. She can elicit emotion from the reader like whoa.
On the surface, she seems to hate women. Her novels contain many misogynistic statements. Male friendship is always depicted as superior to heterosexual relationships. Her heroines are mostly childlike, morally pure, boring as shit women. LOL She makes many, many misogynistic statements in her non-fiction writing about how silly and stupid women are and how transcendent men are next to the fairer sex. And yet, her female villains are powerful; they are movers and shakers; they have agency; they are freaking cool as shit--sexy and smart and the equal of the men in the novel--and they aren't always punished for their villainy. In real life, Ouida seems to believe in a kind of third sex, The Genius, who (male or female) is just better than everybody else. She clearly includes herself in this category. LOL
She is an object of pity in many ways. She made so much money; she was so rich (and entirely from her writing), and she squandered it all on hothouse flowers and entertaining and feeding a little squadron of dogs veal for every meal. She died penniless in a rented house that stank of dog piss. She could not afford burial and was only interred decently because her friends paid for it.
She knew everybody, all the glitterati and literati of her age. She invited the men to her parties and held court, smoking cigars with them instead of retiring for a sedate sherry as was customary.
She was weird and gauche and pretentious, and I love her to bitty bits.
I'd recommend starting with Strathmore which can be read for free at archive.org along with most of the rest of her novels and non-fiction writing.
P.S. That's Ouida in my icon.