Reading and Seeing Gender in The Yellow Book

[This is part 4 of 4]

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As mentioned in a previous post, women’s poetry (and prose) appears in earlier volumes of The Yellow Book than women’s visual art. So it seems appropriate to look at an example from these early volumes and think about what it looks like when men’s art is set beside women’s writing. Volume 2 contains a number of these juxtapositions. Katharine de Mattos’ dangerously sapphic elision of the male gaze in the poem“In a Gallery Portrait of a Lady” almost has the effect of being illustrated by P. Wilson Steer’s preceding series. The averted eyes of “A Lady” and the direct gaze (and background of frames) featured in “A Gentleman” suggest the male artistic subject and female artistic object, while “Portrait of Himself” presents, alternatively, the jarring suggestion that the foregrounded dress-wearer is “himself” in drag, or the mediation of the relationship between the masculine “himself” in the background and the presumably masculine viewer by the fairly sexualized feminine intermediary. A more problematic juxtaposition, if less direct, is between Dolly Radford’s “A Song,” Alfred Thornton’s “A Landscape,” and Charlotte Mew’s “Passed.” This is how they appeared as I turned through The Yellow Book:

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Print versus digital editions, and periodical meganarration

[This is part 3 of 4]

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When I first encountered Denisoff and Kooistra’s The Yellow Nineties, I have to admit I was a bit hesitant. I’m generally very comfortable in digital environments, but as someone who works on comics I worry a lot about the role of scholarly editions in distancing readers from meaningful visual elements or word/image connections that would have been more apparent in earlier versions. The Yellow Nineties makes it possible to view shorter works on a page of their own (and this is the manner in which I first encountered it); this seems like it could take away from understanding The Yellow Book as a larger text, especially as the pages for these individual short works don’t have any links to navigate to the Volume’s table of contents or to the works preceding or following. However, as I spent more time exploring the website it has become apparent the lengths to which they’ve gone to make all possible information accessible by including multiple versions of each Volume in html, xlm, pdf, and flipbook form. The flipbooks most obviously recreate the process of encountering the physical text, down to imaging the onion paper as a separate page.

However, Jim Mussell argues that there are more productive ways to conceptualize of digitizations: “[d]igital resources should not replace the material in the archive but instead complement it, providing another way to approach whatever is being studied” (204). To say nothing of all the possibilities opened up by digital editions, my work on this project would not have been possible without searchable text, and a serendipitous viewing of the xml encoding for Margaret Sumner’s “Plein Air” lead me to realize queer undertones in this drawing and the poem preceding it. The relationship between digital literary studies and illustration is a bit queer in general. How does one distant read visual art? While, with projects like The Yellow Nineties, it would be possible to use a tool like Voyant to analyse the xml notes on a large group of illustrations, this would seem to tell us more about the perspective of those doing the digitizing than about the work itself. With my project, except for a few attempts to do closer readings of particular illustrations, I really am not able to demonstrate anything about the images except through those words that are attached to them – the names and pronouns they are attached to, and other words each volume uses to label the artwork and itself.

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The Data

[This is part 2 of 4]

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Having made some account of how labeled and counted my data in the last post, I won’t comment much further on that except to note that I’ve published a copy of my spreadsheet on google docs which includes information on pseudonyms and my sources for information on artist gender.

So without further ado, here is the data I’ve collected, as visualized through Tableau.

Linda K. Hughes argues that volumes 1-3 of The Yellow Book are marked by a lack of women poets and this is taken to the extreme in terms of visual art; as Kooistra and Denisoff note, no woman artist appears before Volume 4 (“The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 4 (Jan. 1895)”). This is followed by a slow increase in women’s illustrations in Volumes 4-6. Volumes 7-13 demonstrate greater parity. While Hughes saw a decrease in women’s poetry for Volume 13, it is instead Volumes 11 and 8 in which women are underrepresented as artists. As Volumes 7-9 all featured art from a particular regional school, the absence of women’s work in Volume 8 might have more to do with the environment of the Glasgow school than the evolution of The Yellow Book itself, however (Denisoff and Kooistra “The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 8 (January 1896)”).

One significant failure of my data at this point is that it does not take account of any artwork that is not represented in the table of contents, as this seemed to have a different significance in ways I wasn’t quite prepared to quantify. It is important to note, though, that the covers of Volumes 9, 11, 12, and 13 featured women’s artwork (Denisoff and Kooistra “The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 9 (April 1896)”). Although covers aren’t put in juxtaposition with any particular written texts, they are in a way in relation to them all; in some ways this single placement repeating through the final three volumes seems more significant than the number of women’s illustrations within – in this sense, Volume 9 might be the periodical’s greatest gendered turning point.

Another conclusion my data can help draw, although it is of less interest for my project and it should not be surprising to anyone familiar with The Yellow Book, is that there are more male artists who contributed a large number of works over time to the periodical. So I’m ending this post with a packed bubble chart that breaks this down by gender again. By clicking on an individual bubble it should be possible to see each artist’s contributions by name.

Introduction and Rationale for The Yellow Book Project

[This is part 1 of 4]

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For my final project in Dr. Bourrier’s Digitizing Women Writers seminar, I have decided to analyze the connection between women’s art and women’s literature over the span of The Yellow Book periodical, with some reflections on how this is affected by contemporary digital scholarship. After a lengthy process of translating The Yellow Book table of contents to spreadsheet form and then researching each artist, I have used Tableau to create a visualization that represents the gender breakdown for visual artist contributors.

My hope is that this chart can easily convey information that I don’t think has been completely synthesized elsewhere. I have relied heavily on Dennis Denisoff & Lorraine Janzen Kooistra’s digitization of the periodical, The Yellow Nineties; although I referred to the University of Calgary’s print copies of The Yellow Book, I have followed The Yellow Nineties‘ tables of contents and referred to their introductions and biographies (where possible) for information on gender. Where their project didn’t provide a clear answer on gender, I attempted to find other sources. I used a limited number of scholarly print sources, but mainly relied on short biographies from institutions like the Tate Modern or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victorian Web. When this failed, I made the choice in a few places to assign a gender based on the artist’s name (if it seemed to me fairly unambiguously gendered) or honorifics such as Mrs. or Miss. The few artists whose gender I have recorded as unknown are mostly those who have contributed only a single work under initials and a surname.

As my focus is on women contributors, I don’t want to overemphasize the presence of those artists that I haven’t designated as female. Without wanting to contribute to the erasure of the artistic output of potentially female artists, it might not be unreasonable to assume these unknown artists are male – and I suspect most Victorian readers would have made this same assumption. It seems important to account both for how these texts have presented themselves historically and how we can read them now given a certain amount of secondary research. Furthermore, where I am capable of knowing a particular pseudonymous or ambiguously named artist as female, there exists the likelihood that this knowledge would have been available to the periodical’s editors and its communities of contributors.

This gets to the root of why I think this kind of analysis is important: when we look at Victorian women’s periodical work from a distance, and in particular the relationships between women’s writing and women’s visual art, it becomes possible to see meaningful patterns of representation in across volumes or even meaningful juxtapositions of individual works. This is informed by Linda K. Hughes’ approach in “Women Poets and Contested Spaces in The Yellow Book,” which disrupts the conventional understanding of thematic divide in the periodical’s publication history:

[P]oems by women in The Yellow Book are most fruitfully approached in terms of four, rather than two, stages of publication history: an initial male-dominated phase (volumes 1-3); a second phase instigated by the journal’s entanglement with decadence and the trial (volumes 4-6); an eclectic phase characterized by gender equity (volumes 7-12); and, in the final volume (13), a resumption of male domination in terms of numbers, yet accompanied by an integration of New Woman poetics, a synthesis of poetry’s gendered dynamic throughout the journal’s run. (850-1)

This argument allows Hughes to account for shifts in gendered representation, gendered differences in artistic reactions to the Wilde trial, and, ultimately, a shift in how artists of all genders depicted women (and the New Woman) that can be usefully conceptualized as a response to the artistic output of peers in earlier journals (Hughes 864). My own work shows somewhat similar trends in women’s visual art, although I will elaborate about the particular relationships I think it has to writing (along lines of gender) in later posts, as well as going over the data itself in more detail.