[This is part 4 of 4]

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3]

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:

(“A Song”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("A Landscape") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“A Landscape”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("Passed") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“Passed”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

The relationship here is not immediately apparent. The only relationship that can be easily seen is between Radford and Mews as women (publishing under identifiably feminine names) and the two naked women’s bodies depicted in Thornton’s painting. This is certainly not to say that Thornton intended this as a derogatory comment towards these two writers, suggesting women’s proper relationship to art is objectification. Even the editor cannot be held entirely responsible – we should think of this instead as an unfortunate effect made likely by the exclusive employment of male artists (who seemed to often produce depictions of ornamental women).

Following this, the first appearance of women’s illustration seems all the more noteworthy. Volume 4 presented “Plein Air” by “Miss Sumner” (emphasizing gender more than with most women writers, who usually went without honorifics) in between two other women’s texts – E. Nesbit’s “Day and Night” and Marion Hepworth Dixon’s “A Thief in the Night.”

("Day and Night") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“Day and Night”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("Plein Air") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“Plein Air”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("A Thief in the Night") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“A Thief in the Night”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

While Nesbit’s poem and Dixon’s story are brought together by their framing of Sumner’s art and the three make the only instance in this volume of three back-to-back works by women, there are a number of other factors that make this connection more meaningful. Both written works place the word “night” in their title and explore the experience of seeking out an illicit lover after dark, and they seem to do so in a manner that is focalized by a woman’s perspective. Linda Hughes has suggested that “Day and Night” represents an actively desiring female speaker and an somewhat feminized male lover (856), and this is paralleled in “A Thief in the Night” by an active female lover and a male lover who is described as beautiful and sickly, and ultimately depicted as a corpse. Especially in this immediate context, “Plein Air” also suggests clandestine romance; it features two small figures – central, yet almost blending into the busy details of grass around them – inclined towards each other confidentially and affectionately. Furthermore, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, on seeing Denisoff and Kooistra’s xml markup I realized that these figures both appear to be women – continuing the disruption of heteronormativity that seems to run through all these texts.

The very next volume, which has no visual art by women, has only one instance of women’s writing bookending an illustration – Ella D’Arcy’s “The Pleasure-Pilgrim,” R. Anning Bell’s “The Chrysanthemum Girl,” and Rosamund Marriot-Watson’s “Two Songs.”

("The Pleasure-Pilgrim") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“The Pleasure-Pilgrim”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("The Chrysanthemum Girl" ) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“The Chrysanthemum Girl” ) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("Two Songs") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“Two Songs”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

Without dwelling too long on these works, they seem to repeat the dynamics of the second volume to a degree. Bell’s painting depicts a woman literally combined with the fleeting ornamental object of a flower which comes off as doing a disservice to the two texts which face it, especially as both works imagine female death in a manner that seems to criticize this image. D’Arcy’s story depicts the tragic suicide of a ‘fallen woman’ after a lover rejects her “pollution” and Marriot-Watson’s poems feature speakers who seem supernaturally powerful yet who plead for forgetfulness in death. It is possible, of course, to read the placement of this artwork as a purposefully ironic, but that is difficult in light of the relative frequency of pictures of women versus works by women in The Yellow Book‘s publication history to that point.

Volume 6 saw the inclusion of Gertrude D. Hammond’s “The Yellow Book,” the significance of which Denisoff and Kooistra have also noted:

“Emphasizing the Bodley Head’s reputation for publishing the work of women, the editors strategically positioned Hammond’s visual art between the literary contributions of two female authors. “ The Captain’s Book,” George Egerton ’s first short story to be published in The Yellow Book since Volume 1, fronted the painting, while Dollie Radford’s lyrical poem, “ A Song,” followed it. Bookended in this way, the reproduction of Hammond’s painting linked New Woman authors, women readers, and The Yellow Book. (“The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 6 (July 1895)”)

The themes they bring up, of women’s art self-consciously referencing other women as both artists and readers becomes even more predominant in Volume 9 – which I argued earlier already represents a turning point in terms of number of women’s illustrations alone. I should note that my thoughts on this conclusion in general have been informed by Antonia Losano’s The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature – although none of these texts quite represent the type of literary conventions that Losano is interested in. It is more difficult and less useful to highlight the immediate juxtaposition of works in this Volume simply because there are so many by women. Instead, I think it’s possible to conceptualize these works in terms of what Thierry Groensteen calls “general arthrology” – meaningful connections that readers notice “braiding” through an entire text through repeated use of symbols (viii-ix). In Volume 9, women’s visual art repeatedly depicts women less as an aesthetic object and more in relationship to each other – either directly or through writing.

Isabel Adams’s “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” depicts the nude female form, but in the context of women’s community.

(“Come Unto These Yellow Sands”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“Come Unto These Yellow Sands”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

Celia A. Levitus’s “A Reading From Herrick” also imagines community, this time quite explicitly through literature. Furthermore, it immediately precedes a essay by a woman, Mrs. J. E. H. Gordon, on the history of women writing about women (“Mary Astell”).

 (“A Reading From Herrick”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“A Reading From Herrick”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

Even “The Lady of Shallot” and “Binnorie, O Binnorie” seem to contribute in some way to the idea of representing a connection between literature and women’s agency, in lines that render these characters with strength and dignity.

(“The Lady of Shallot”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“The Lady of Shallot”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
 (“Binnorie, O Binnorie”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“Binnorie, O Binnorie”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

Lastly, Mrs. A. J. Gaskin’s contribution, “A Book Plate For Isobel Verney Cave,” literally uses the visual art of one woman to demonstrate another woman’s material connection to literature.

("A Book Plate For Isobel Verney Cave")  (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“A Book Plate For Isobel Verney Cave”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

Just as Hughes sees the appearance in later Volumes of poetry by men which takes a less forcefully masculine perspective and demonstrated the influence of women’s writing (864), this is repeated in Volume 9 in the art of A. J. Gaskin. He contributes a bookplate designed for Mrs. Gaskin, as well as an image honouring the image and age of his mother (who seems to maybe be holding a book herself).

("A Book Plate for Georgie Evelyn Cave Gaskin") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“A Book Plate for Georgie Evelyn Cave Gaskin”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
("The Artist's Mother") (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)
(“The Artist’s Mother”) (Image appears courtesy of University of Calgary Special Collections.)

Looking at connections like this between the illustrations influences readings of the written work as well. For example, it highlights how Dollie Radford’s “A Ballad of Victory” (which occurs immediately before Mrs. Gaskin’s work) is interested in both women’s language and homosocial connections. On another level the poem seems to be about shared experiences of heartbreak, but if we read it in terms of women’s attempts to express themselves artistically the emphasis on “the magic of her speech” (230) and the traveller’s avoidance “when for her beauty men besought”(230) come across as more urgent and the fantasy of a final “victory” makes more sense.

A more exhaustive analysis of the gendered connections between art and literature in The Yellow Book would be a useful endeavor in the future; it would be possible to analyse the interactions of word and picture in each Volume as well as provide a more authoritative comment on the shift in this relationship over the length of the periodical’s run. That said, I believe this project has suggested an overall trend.

Bridget Elliot argues that Aubrey Beardsley was an essential figure in building The Yellow Book’s association with the “New Woman.” She notes that the initial prospectus of Volume 1 advertised the periodical with an image by Beardsley that depicted an intimidating female figure in the act of book shopping (40). Furthermore, the general style in which Beardsley drew directly contrasted more objectifying trends in graphic design at the time. Elliot compares the reception of a more conventional theatrical poster to one of Beardsley’s: “[w]hile the three-dimensional modeling and naturalistic coloring of lithographs like Van Beers’s make women seem soft, alluring, and available, Beardsley’s flatly outlined figures in blue and green conveys a more complex sexuality that is resistant and even threatening” (45). While the artistic avant-garde that The Yellow Book embraced may have seemed less like it sexualized women in conventional ways, and for this attracted more women readers and contributors, it seems like in the long run the initial prospectus may have had a bigger influence – or at least been a more representative picture of the periodical’s future direction. Depicting women as unsexy aesthetic objects is still necessarily a type of objectification. I would argue that, just as with the pre-Wilde trial and post-Wilde trial distinction, we might usefully think about The Yellow Book in terms of an earlier stage where illustrations depicted women as an object of art, and a later (or perhaps post-Beardsley) stage where illustrations contributed to an overall interest in women as artistic creators.

 

Works Cited

Adams, H. Isabel.”Come Unto These Yellow Sands.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Bell, R. Anning [Robert Anning]. “The Chrysanthemum Girl.” The Yellow Book 5 (Apr. 1895): 69. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

D’Arcy, Ella. “The Pleasure-Pilgrim.” The Yellow Book 5 (Apr. 1895): 34-67. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

Denisoff, Dennis and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. ” The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 8 (January 1896).” The Yellow Nineties Online . Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2013. 1 May 2015.

—. ” The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 9 (April 1896).” The Yellow Nineties Online . Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2013. Web. 1 May 2015.

Dixon, Marion Hepworth. “A Thief in the Night.” The Yellow Book 4 (Jan. 1895): 239-46. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

Dowling, Linda. “Letterpress and Picture in the Literary Periodicals of the 1890s.” The Yearbook of English Studies 16 (1986): 117-31. Project Muse. Web. 15 April 2015.

Elliott, Bridget. “New and Not so “New Women” on the London Stage: Aubrey Beardsley’s “Yellow Book” Images of Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Réjane.” Victorian Studies 31.1 (1987): 33-57. Proquest. Web. 6 April 2015.

Gaskin, Mrs. A. J. “A Book Plate.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Gaskin, A. J. “The Artist’s Mother.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

—.“A Book Plate.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Gordon, Mrs. J. E. H. “Mary Astell.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Hammond, Gertrude D. [Demain]. “The Yellow Book.” The Yellow Book 6 (July 1895): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Holden, Evelyn. “Binnorie, O Binnorie.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Hughes, Linda K. “Women Poets and Contested Spaces in The Yellow Book.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 44.4 (2004): 849-72. Project Muse. Web. 25 March 2015.

Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen and Dennis Denisoff. ” The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 4 (Jan. 1895).” The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

—. ” The Yellow Book: Introduction to Volume 6 (July 1895).” The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

Levetus, Celia A. “A Reading from Herrick.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Losano, Antonia Jacqueline. The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008. Print

Marriott-Watson, Rosamund. [Rosamund Ball]. “Two Songs.” The Yellow Book 5 (Apr. 1895): 71-72. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

Mew, Charlotte M. “Passed.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 121-41. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. 1 May 2015.

Mussell, Jim. “Teaching Nineteenth-Century Periodicals Using Digital Resources: Myths and Methods.” Victorian Periodicals Review 45.2 (2012): 228-38. Project Muse. Web. 10 April 2015.

Nesbit, E [Edith]. “Day and Night.” The Yellow Book 4 (Jan. 1895): 260. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

Radford, Dolly. “A Ballad for Victory.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

—. “Song.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 117. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. 1 May 2015.

Rudland, Florence M. “The Lady of Shalott.” The Yellow Book 9 (April 1896): 119. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2014.

Steer, P. Wilson [Philip Wilson]. “A Lady.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 175. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. 1 May 2015.

—. “Portrait of Himself.” The Yellow Book 2 (July 1894): 173. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. 1 May 2015.

Sumner, Miss [Margaret L.]. “Plein Air.” The Yellow Book 4 (Jan. 1895): 237. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011. Web. 1 May 2015.

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