Although he died in 1898, and has come to symbolise the 1890s in general, the artist Aubrey Beardsley (subject of a current exhibition at Tate Britain) deserves to be seen as an honorary Edwardian. His influence, after all, extended far beyond his lifetime, and many audiences will have encountered him for the first time in books and exhibitions produced in the 1900s. The question of whether the ‘decadence’ of the 1890s extended into the 1900s, and how it manifested itself, remains a very interesting one.
In the meantime, this month has also seen the launch of the Aubrey Beardsley Society and their excellent Aubrey Beardsley website. The Society’s aims, in its own words, are ‘to bring together emerging Beardsley scholars and long-time admirers, artists and collectors, students and academics who are shaping the field of Beardsley studies – in 2020 and beyond. Cultivating new talent in this field is the Society’s privilege and responsibility’. You can join the Society here.
The website also has a great library, and a wonderful blog
Finally (as if this wasn’t enough): ‘to mark the foundation of the Society, the Emerging Beardsley Scholar Prize will be awarded for the best short essay on any aspect of Beardsley’s work, life, and reception. The Society aims to encourage new work that is intellectually adventurous and stylistically accomplished and seeks submissions that highlight Beardsley’s relevance today. Postgraduate and early career researchers who have not yet held permanent academic posts are invited to participate. The author of the winning essay will be awarded £500 while two runners-up will receive £100 each. For further details, please consult Call for Submissions.’
D. J. Sheppard, Theodore Wratislaw: Fragments of a Life (The Rivendale Press, 2017)
Was there ever a more 1890s-sounding character than Theodore Wratislaw? His surname sounds like a Beardsley drawing: the craggy ‘wrati’ leading into the sinuous ‘slaw’. If that isn’t enough, his middle name ‘Graf’ hints at possible connections to the Bohemian nobility: a useful foil for a poet whose birthplace was the town of Rugby in Warwickshire. To those who haven’t read their copies of The Yellow Book or The Savoy too closely, Theodore Wratislaw seems invented – qualities that clearly endeared him to Max Beerbohm, whose famous fictional 1890s hero ‘Enoch Soames’ contained at least a ‘dash’ of Wratislaw.
Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933) was, however, not only very real, but – as D. J. Sheppard’s excellent new biography reveals – shared Beerbohm’s fate of living the vast majority of his life outside of the decade in which he achieved passing notoriety. The question of what happened to the main players of the 1890s in the 1900s and beyond has always been a fascinating one. Beardsley, Wilde, Dowson and Johnson were all dead by 1902, leaving the survivors of the decade to either trade in nostalgia for the rest of their lives (as Beerbohm did, to some extent), or try to forge a new identity for the coming century Continue reading
‘Vanity’ by D. Y. Cameron (The Yellow Book, Vol 13)
Links between 1890s and 1900s culture have often been obscured by our tendency towards strict periodisation, as if the deaths of Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria in 1900 and 1901 signalled an abrupt end to both the Victorian era and its late flowering, the so-called fin-de-siècle. And yet many of the key cultural figures of the Edwardian period first rose to prominence in the 1890s (H. G. Wells, W. B. Yeats and Walter Sickert, to name but a few). Max Beerbohm may have claimed to belong securely to the ‘Beardsley period’, but his greatest achievements, and greatest fame, came in the following decade. Furthermore, although the thirteenth and final volume of The Yellow Book (a ‘defining’ text of the period) was published in 1897, its legacy could be said to extend far into the Edwardian age.
On this basis, Edwardian scholars may be interested in the following online resource: the Yellow Nineties Online. The site not only contains links to the full text of all thirteen volumes of The Yellow Book, but a wealth of related material, including contemporary reviews, scholarly commentary, and short biographies of artists, writers and publishers. Highly recommended!
If you’re seeking four days of conference madness next April, you may be interested in the following event, which takes place in the two days preceding our own inaugural conference (the first day of which will also be held in Durham):
‘Efface the Traces!’ – Modernism and Influence
Durham University, 9-11 April 2013
‘[T]he poets of the nineties were entirely missed out of my personal history […] I never read any of these people until it was much too late for me to get anything out of them’. T.S. Eliot, letter to Ezra Pound, 1924
‘[I]t was towards the end of my school days or in my first year or two at Harvard University [that] I was reading the poets of the ‘nineties, who were the only poets […] who at that period of history seemed to have anything to offer me as a beginner’.T.S. Eliot, Saltire Review, iv, 1957
If Ezra Pound’s clamorous injunction – ‘make it new!’ – might be considered the first commandment of modernism, then Brecht’s dictum – ‘efface the traces!’ – stands as its complementary shadow statement. As the example of Eliot begins to illustrate, the Poundian urge to transfigure ‘legitimate’ influences results in a comparable urge to efface influences considered inappropriate. However, criticism has often proved inadequately alert to the motives underlying authorial advertisement and evasion of influence, instead colluding with the artist in the construction of a suspiciously orderly canonical narrative of modernist influence. We dutifully discuss Eliot as the heir of Dante and Donne; we corroborate Woolf’s departure from Wells and Bennett; we identify the Ibsen in Exiles, and the Confucianism of the Cantos. Continue reading