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CRITICAL INTRODUCTION

TO VOLUME 2 OF THE SAVOY (April 1896)

The second and final quarterly volume of The Savoy appeared in April 1896. Printed by the respected Chiswick Press, the April number introduced new ornamental features, such as decorated initial letters to begin each article, and a thicker, darker typeface for the magazine’s letterpress. The magazine’s publisher, Leonard Smithers, paid an additional thirteen guineas for such enhancements and “extensive corrections and alterations throughout the type,” making this the most expensive of the magazine’s eight issues to produce: the printing costs amounted to 103 pounds, 5 shillings, 7 pence (Nelson 297). Running to 206 pages, this was also the longest number of the magazine, exceeding Volume 1 by approximately 30 pages and all subsequent issues by approximately100. The increased size was likely due to Smithers’s effort to compete with John Lane’s The Yellow Book. After Smithers announced the first volume of The Savoy, Lane responded by publishing the longest volume of The Yellow Book in January 1896, as though in an attempt to drown out its new rival (Beckson 249; Kooistra and Denisoff Introduction). With the second volume of The Savoy, Smithers responded in kind by publishing an issue comprised of forty pieces evenly distributed between literature and art. The literary component includes poems, stories, articles, and essays; the art content, though primarily pen-and-ink drawings, also includes engravings, water-colours, and a continued revival of the lithograph.

The volume opens with Arthur Symons, the magazine’s editor, addressing the negative reviews he received for the first volume. In his characteristically ironic manner, Symons writes:

In presenting to the public the second number of “The Savoy,” I wish to thank the critics of the press for the flattering reception which they have given to No. 1. That reception has been none the less flattering because it has been for the most part unfavourable. […] It is with confidence that I anticipate no less instruction from the criticisms which I shall have the pleasure of reading on the number now issued. (“Editorial Note” 5)

Despite Symons’s belief that critical response would not turn in the magazine’s favour, many of the reviews for Volume 2 remarked upon its superior presentation and content, particularly in contrast to The Yellow Book. For instance, Bookselling notes The Savoy’s improved production standards: “The second number of ‘The Savoy’ reaches us in a more worthy and attractive guise than did the first. The paper is better, while the printing bears the hall-mark of the Chiswick Press” (qtd. in Advertisements 105). The reviewer of the Glasgow Record sounds a similar note. Comparing the issue favourably to The Yellow Book, the reviewer observes that The Savoy publication has “a more pronouncedly literary quality” and calls it “a creditable performance […] typical of the art and literature of the day” (qtd. in Advertisements 105).

Indeed, the poetry, short fiction, essays, and visual art featured in this volume offer a remarkable overview of some of the avant-garde movements of the fin de siècle. Unlike Lane’s Yellow Book, which would “publish no serials” (“Prospectus” 2), the second volume of The Savoy published instalments of Aubrey Beardsley’s novel Under the Hill and Frederick Wedmore’s “The Deterioration of Nancy,” a sequel to the epistolary “To Nancy” in Volume 1. The Savoy’s second volume also introduced pieces serialized in subsequent issues, including “Pages from the Life of Lucy Newcome” by Arthur Symons—a piece to which he would offer a prequel, “The Childhood of Lucy Newcome,” in the final volume—and Havelock Ellis’s multi-part essay on Friedrich Nietzsche, which begins in Volume 2 and runs through Volumes 3 and 4. Ellis’s essay is of special note. It provides a comprehensive introduction to the radical German philosopher at a time when his work still very little read in Britain. As Karl Beckson notes, “Ellis was drawn to [Nietzsche] for his attack on centuries of received morality: Nietzsche ‘stood at the finest summit of modern culture’” (Beckson 252).

In addition to his essay on Nietzsche, Ellis translated the lead story of Volume 2, Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso’s “A Mad Saint.” Lombroso chronicles the story of a girl who once dreamed of being a nun named Maddalena and her journey through religious hysteria and institutionalization. Throughout the nineteenth century, there was a wide-spread popular fascination with hysteria. Feminine hysteria often became linked with religious iconography, a topic that Cristina Mazzoni discusses extensively throughout her book Saint Hysteria: Neurosis, Mysticism, and Gender in European Culture. The image of the holy woman, often an ascetic figure gripped in the ecstasy of divine revelation, effectively blurs the lines between sensuality and mysticism, art and religion, and madness and genius. Lombroso notes that “the germ of holiness, as well as genius, must be sought among the insane” (21). This theme resurfaces throughout the second volume of The Savoy in texts such as W.B. Yeats’s “Rosa Alchemica,” Ernest Dowson’sCountess Marie of the Angels,” and Leila Macdonald’sThe Love of the Poor.”

Charles H. Shannon is again afforded the honour of the volume’s leading art work with his lithograph “Salt Water.” The British Museum’s record of the original print notes that there is a “young nude woman on a beach, whole-length and in profile to left, stooping slightly and holding the hands of two small children, the boy striding towards the sea and the girl leaning back” (British Museum n.p.). Details for the sexes of the figures are largely lost in the print reproduction of Shannon’s piece and the stormy sea obfuscates facial expressions. Like other artists in the period, Shannon often incorporated nudity in a Venetian or classical style to escape charges of obscenity (McKeown 91).

Salt Water” reflects not only the influence of Venetian art, however, but also that of the arts and crafts movement, which celebrated art made manually over art made mechanically (Delaney 43). While “the common practice at the time was to hire a commercial printer to pull one’s lithographs,” Shannon took his cue from older artisanal practices and drew directly on stone (McKeown 99). This method was common in France, but little known in Britain at the time, and sparked a fierce debate among the new generation of British lithographers, setting those who created “transfer lithographs” against those who followed Shannon’s practice (99). Symons’ and Beardsley’s decision to head the second volume with Shannon’s lithograph is indicative of The Savoy’s keen interest in the material practices and aesthetic debates concerning the reproduction of visual imagery.

The Savoy’s affiliation with European art and literature is also evident in its literary selections. Symons’s fascination with French Symbolism was longstanding. In the spring of 1890, he visited Paris with Ellis, where he met leading French symbolist writers and artists, including Joris-Karl Huysmans, Remy de Gourmont, Stéphane Mallarmé, Maurice Maeterlinck, Jean Moréas, and Paul Verlaine (Beckson and Munro 55). Symons soon became close friends with the latter; together with William Rothenstein, he arranged Verlaine’s lecture tour in England in 1895. For Symons, then, Verlaine’s death in January 1896 was a major loss for the literary world, and he commissioned two essays to mark his passing: “A First Sight of Verlaine” by Edmund Gosse, and “Verlaine in 1894” by W. B. Yeats. These essays are followed by Symons’s own translation of Verlaine’s speech, “My Visit to London,” wherein the French poet provides commentary on a selection of his work. Taken together, the articles helped to introduce the aesthetic tenets of French Symbolism to a British audience. Ernest Dowson’s decadent poem “Saint-Germain-En-Laye” similarly underscores The Savoy’s interest in French culture by presenting the titular Parisian neighbourhood as a semi-mystical natural world beyond the ordinary and common metropolis.

The new installment of Beardsley’s illustrated novel Under the Hill is one of the most explicitly decadent pieces in the April issue. The story is preceded by Beardsley’s pen-and-ink drawing “A Footnote,” one of two self-portraits Beardsley included in the volume as part of his self-promotion campaign. The image depicts the artist sporting his iconic haircut and tethered to a herm, an ancient Greek form of phallic statuary that referenced the god Hermes. According to Matthew Sturgis, “The image carried a suggestion of an artist tied to venery and the world, and indeed, given that he was contemplating work on Aristophanes’s Lysistrata—a play given over to phallic herms and their phallic properties—the image was apt enough. Nevertheless, the bonds look decidedly light, and the captive blithely at ease” (282). The main figure’s gaze towards the audience seems to invite a shared understanding that Beardsley is “tethered” to his public image as a Pan-like figure—both sexual and playful—while being, like Hermes, a messenger of truth. The tether hangs loosely, however, suggesting that Beardsley is freer to operate on his own terms than a viewer might initially assume.

The second instalment of Under the Hill then follows, opening with Fanfreluche waking up in a “great plumed four-post bed” on “frilled silk pillows” (187). The narrative largely reads as a catalogue of notable sensuous experiences, suggesting an Epicurean devotion to sensuality. These pleasures are provided with extensive footnotes, which comprise just under half the text of the instalment, only forty words fewer than the main text. The discursive footnotes thus openly compete for dominance with the central narrative. The result of this strange blend of image, text, and paratext is the inversion of conventional ideals of order and priority among the “sister arts”: a work of visual art is presented as a footnote prior to the text that it ostensibly serves to illustrate, and the text itself is then nearly overwhelmed by its ostensibly subordinate footnotes. As Stephen Prickett suggests, the instalment thus reflects the decadent “tension between the monstrous fragment and the unified whole” (107).

Beardsley originally intended to provide three illustrations for Under the Hill, but as April drew nearer, his tuberculosis put him in such a state of decline that Smithers was forced to include a “Publisher’s Note” explaining that the artist had been unable to finish all the designs originally intended for the issue (197). The two completed illustrations, “The Ascension of Saint Rose of Lima” and “For the Third Tableau of ‘Das Rheingold,’” refer to two of Fanfreluche’s “waking thoughts” (187). “The Ascension” dramatizes Fanfreluche’s pleasure in the story of Saint Rose, a “well-known Peruvian virgin” (187) whose religious devotion, like Lombroso’s Maddalena earlier in the volume, is underscored with a touch of the monstrous: Saint Rose “built a little oratory at the end of the garden and prayed and sang hymns in it till all the beetles, spiders, snails and creeping things came round to listen” (188). Beardsley illustrates the morning of Saint Rose’s wedding. Rather than marrying Ferdinand de Flores, she “put on her wedding frock, and decked her hair with roses, and went up to a little hill,” where Saint Mary “descended and kissed Rose upon the forehead and carried her up swiftly into heaven” (188). The image alludes to the iconographic tradition that depicts Mary’s ascension to heaven, but as Beardsley renders it the image has a notably decadent and erotic charge. The figures are lavishly dressed—indeed the text describes Saint Rose as having “perfumed herself and painted her lips” (188)—and are pressed close in an unabashed embrace, perhaps to emphasize the homoerotic “intimacy” between Mary and Saint Rose that Beardsley makes a point of remarking upon in a footnote (188).

The other image, “Third Tableau,” alludes to Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the score of which Fanfreluche examines in bed, “turn[ing] over the pages with a loving hand” (192). Beardsley’s reference to the Ring Cycle echoes the critical interest in Wagner that readers would have also noted in Ellis’s essay on Nietzsche earlier in the volume. Beardsley illustrates a moment from the “brilliant comedy” (192): Loge, the god of fire, is placed at the centre of the image; Wotan, king of the gods, appears behind and to the left. The two have met in the underground world of the dwarves, where they hope to recover gold stolen by the dwarf Alberich. A dragon (serpent) appears on the right, from whom Loge recoils in feigned fear, demonstrating an imperviousness to monstrosity. Commenting on a performance of the Ring Cycle, the Abbé “rejoiced in the extravagant monstrous poetry, the heated melodrama, and splendid agitation of it all” (195). The image thus draws on both religious iconography and the decadent predilection for Nordic myth and the grotesque.

Originally, Beardsley had also intended to include his poem, “The Ballad of the Barber,” (Nelson 81), but Symons exerted his influence as editor to prevent its publication, suggesting the poem was “poor” (Letters of Aubrey Beardsley 122). Concerned that the omission would leave him “rather thinly represented in the number,” Beardsley begged Smithers to “print the poem under a pseudonym and separately from Under the Hill.” He jokingly suggested that “Symons” might be an appropriate nom-de-plume (Letters of Aubrey Beardsley 122). “The Ballad of the Barber” appeared in the following number under Beardsley’s own name (see the Critical Introduction to Volume 3), but the disagreement over its literary merit damaged the working relationship between the two men: henceforward they would speak to one another only through the intermediary of Smithers (Nelson 81).

Beardsley’s willingness to subvert conventional relations of text to image is also evident in William T. Horton’s contributions to Volume 2. Strongly influenced by Beardsley’s use of pictorial space and line work, “Three Visions” marks Horton’s first appearance in a magazine. He became a regular contributor to The Savoy and his work also appeared in The Green Sheaf, a little magazine associated with the Irish revival and mysticism. As Jon Crabb notes, Horton’s triptych reflects a trend in decadent and symbolist art that “rebelled against the confines of traditional orthodoxy and sought out more exotic forms of expression.” Each of the three images is captioned with a passage from the King James translation of the Bible, but this conventionally Christian (and respectable) source material is perversely transformed through figures borrowed from occult and classical sources: the figure with “tongues like a serpent” literally appears to have a snake tongue and the “seducing spirit” appears as an androgynous Medusa figure with an octopus for hair. The final image in the triptych draws on the “Egyptian-flavoured paganism” in which Horton was immersed at the time, with the central figure’s staff evoking Ra as much as the Pope.

If Beardsley’s and Horton’s contributions are characteristic of The Savoy’s allegiances to decadence, Volume 2 also embraces work that derives from the “naturalist” school that favoured the dispassionate observation of the psychological, sexual, and material conditions of modern life. Taking up a line of thought already implicit in Ellis’s trenchant defence of Zola in Volume 1, Vincent O’Sullivan ’s “On The Kind of Fiction Called Morbid” decries the popularity of escapism in literature, wherein audiences “laugh at sorry forces and the works of Mr. Mark Twain” (168). O’Sullivan is particularly critical of novels that provide “morality packed in a box” (170). He writes:

[I]t is more easy to write the history of Miss Perfect: how, upon the death of her parents, she comes to reside in the village, and lives there mildly and sedately; and how one day, in the course of her walk abroad, she is noticed by the squire’s lady, who straightaway transports her to the Hall. And, of course, she soon becomes mighty well with the family, and the squire’s son becomes enamoured of her. (169)

O’Sullivan defends fiction that actively eschews fantastical adventures and implausible conclusions. He urges his readers to be “encouraging, [or] at the least not actively hostile and harassing,” to writers of so-called “morbid” fiction “when they go out in the black night to follow their own sullen will-o’-the-wisps” (170).

O’Sullivan’s preference for work that rejects the fashion for escapism and strives, instead, to observe life in all its meanness and tragedy is one shared by several of the more notable contributors to Volume 2. Though she is referred to in the table of contents as simply “A New Writer,” Clara Savile Clarke had, in fact, connections to the some of the major writers and artists associated with the decadent movement, including Oscar Wilde and Beardsley—the latter being a close friend of her mother. Though little remembered today, she published in numerous popular journals of the period, including The English Illustrated Magazine, Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction, and Sylvia’s Journal (Barrigan, n.p.); another of her short stories appears in Volume 6 of The Savoy. Her reason for concealing her identity remains unknown.

Clarke’s “A Mere Man” describes its protagonist Leonard Standish and his love interest, Aimée. In contrast to Leonard, she is dissembling and dissolute, loathing the “odious phrase” of marriage (27). Clarke’ depiction of marriage is one popular to New Woman fiction: Leonard and Aimée are an ill-fated match. Not surprisingly, then, when Aimée and Leonard do marry, their relationship becomes increasingly strained, due in part to the fast company she keeps and her thirst for alcohol. Leonard experiences particular horror when he finds that Aimée “had been kissing her baby with a breath that was perfumed with brandy” (42). The story culminates with Aimée abandoning Leonard and their baby. Like O’Sullivan, Clarke rejects the idea of a happy ending. Praised by The Academy for its “unflinching directness” (405), the story offers a rare portrait of a woman who pursues her own desires, rejecting the societal expectations of a mother and wife.

Symons’s willingness, as editor, to include material beyond the remit of “art for art’s sake” is evident, too, in the contributions to Volume 2 that take up the daily lives of working men and women. Of particular note is John Gray’sThe Forge,” a lyrical evocation of a blacksmith’s shop. Though his earlier work was much celebrated for its finely-tuned musicality, “The Forge” interrogates the ways in which the pursuit of beauty as its own end can deform our relation to the materiality of the world. The poem’s opening lines depict the forge in purely aesthetic terms: “human voices / Sound hoarse and soft” compared to the superior metal and the shop “mottled with rose” (97). The pursuit of a beautiful object seems to take precedence until halfway through the poem when the narrator recognizes the harm such priorities enact on the bodies of its makers: “at his best / Maimed in his poor hands, wry, with crooked back, / Great-armed, bow-legged, and narrow in the chest. / It bends a man to make no matter what” (98). The tension is further problematized by the language of violence in the last half of the poem where Gray describes the metal’s scream as it is “torture-bathed” (98). Gray’s poem thus challenges the aesthetic view that the well-wrought object is an end in itself, and emphasizes, instead, the human costs of the pursuit of beauty.

Addressing similar concerns, Selwyn Image’sThe Truant’s Holiday” presents the dehumanizing effects of city life and elevates the natural world as a preferable alternative. The poem hinges on a central question: “What are these days we spend in curious toil, / In hectic pleasure, and misname them life?” (163). The speaker’s rejection of “hectic pleasure” is a far cry from Abbé Fanfreluche’s immersion in it. Image begins the poem with an imperative to “fly these paltry streets, and pay / Our matin worship at some woodland shrine” (163), elevating the natural to the spiritual. Akin to Gray’s worn-down workers, Image presents “town-bred weariness” and refers to Londoners as “stale prisoners of the Town” (163). He contrasts the city with the “enchantment” (163) of nature, wherein rare “marvel[s]” of “colour, or perfume, or entangled sound” are offered “[t]o those who awefully approach her ground” (163). He presents nature as a “fairyland’s delight” (163), where “truants,” those who reject the obligation to attend to normal duties, might escape to a separate, and perhaps mystical, world.

Immersed in the ideals and beliefs associated with Celtic Revival, Yeats’s “Two Poems Concerning Peasant Visionaries” are also concerned with states of mystical revelation. “A Cradle Song” evokes “faery children” and “a whimpering ghost,” hinting towards an interest in the otherworldly. Meanwhile, “The Valley of the Black Pig” highlights the superstitions of the Irish peasantry, who, a prefatory note explains, “have for generations comforted themselves […] with visions of a great battle, to be fought in a mysterious valley called ‘The Valley of the Black Pig’” (109). The prefatory note provides an account of “an old man [who] would fall entranced upon the ground from time to time, and rave out a description of the battle” (109). The poem echoes the intense devotion of Lombroso’s Mad Saint or Beardsley’s St. Rose of Lima, but here the emphasis falls not on the singular genius but the plural and ordinary, “We, who are labouring by the cromlech on the shore” (109). Yeats grants the common people an elevated status, labouring alongside magnificent structures and able to access visions “before [their] dream-awakened eyes” (109).

The second volume finds The Savoy in an expansive mood, trying to broaden its appeal through an increasingly wide range of literary genres and timely topic matters, while still cleaving to its claim to be “a periodical of an exclusive literary and artistic kind” (“Prospectus”). To this end, the issue includes serialized prose non-fiction essays and fiction that targeted readers who styled themselves as sophisticated aesthetes and decadents, as evident in the issue’s concerns for art, mysticism, and beauty. But the issue also incorporated other genres and aesthetic modes, including naturalist fiction by women writers and narratives of working-class life. These efforts did not go unnoticed. In its review of the second volume, The Daily Courier writes:

The editor, Mr. Arthur Symons, professes himself delighted with the “flattering reception” accorded to the first number. It is to be feared, therefore, that he will be less pleased with the reception likely to be given to this second, which is in so many ways—and not least in paper and print—a better number than the first; for it runs a great risk of being praised and bought. (qtd. in Advertisements 106)

From its sumptuous Beardsley cover, depicting an obliging shop assistant presenting a lady with a selection of fashionable new hats in her boudoir apartment, to its witty editorial note and broad array of British and European writers and artists, Volume 2 of The Savoy shows the magazine at full tide. As the reviewer for The Academy puts it, “Whatever may be said against one or other of the contributions,” with this issue, The Savoy has “caught on” (405).

©2021 Jeff Pettis and Dany Prince, Western University.

Works Cited

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  • —. “Salt Water.” 1896, 1028.5. Prints and Drawings. The British Museum, London. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1896-1028-5?fbclid=IwAR2OzzrU6tRe0pcP3cDwjVenmYrc31l2Mk6vgStkluU-bowqVsHUFNGBwEw
  • Smithers, Leonard. “Publisher’s Note.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, p. 197. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-smithers-pub-note/
  • Sturgis, Matthew. Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography. University of Michigan Press, 1998.
  • Symons, Arthur. “The Childhood of Lucy Newcome.” The Savoy, vol. 8, December 1896, pp. 51-61. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv8-symons-childhood/
  • —. “Editorial Note.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, p. 5. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-symons-editorial/
  • —. “Pages from the Life of Lucy Newcome.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 147-160. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-symons-lucy/
  • Yeats, W. B. “Rosa Alchemica.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 56- 70. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca /savoyv2-yeats-rosa/
  • —. “Two Poems Concerning Peasant Visionaries.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, p. 109. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-yeats-peasant/
  • —. “Verlaine in 1894.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 117-118. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-yeats-verlaine/
  • Verlaine, Paul. “My Visit to London.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 119-135. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-verlaine-london/
  • Wedmore, Frederick. “The Deterioration of Nancy.” The Savoy, vol. 2, April 1896, pp. 99-108. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-wedmore-deterioration/
  • —. “To Nancy.” The Savoy, vol. 1, January 1896, pp. 31-41. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv1-wedmore-to-nancy/

MLA citation:

Pettis, Jeff, and Dany Prince. “Critical Introduction to Volume 2 of The Savoy (1896).” Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021, https://1890s.ca/savoyv2_critical_introduction/