TO VOLUME 4 OF THE SAVOY (August 1896)
The fourth volume of The Savoy was published in August 1896. Following the print run of three thousand copies for 2 and 3, the magazine’s publisher, Leonard Smithers, reduced the number of copies printed for Volume 4 to 2,400 (Nelson 85); it was also slightly shorter than Volume 3, making it the shortest to date at only one hundred pages. These reductions are reflected in the production costs, which were only £46.6.5, a decrease of £13.2.2 from volume three (Nelson 301). These numbers indicate that despite the recent shift to monthly publication, and the reduction in cover price, the periodical continued to struggle to find a popular audience for its blend of forward-leaning literature and visual art.
As the economic health of The Savoy was beginning to decline, so, too, Aubrey Beardsley, the magazine’s nominal art editor, was struggling with his own health—so much so that his ability to contribute to the issue was curtailed. While Volume 4 maintains a roughly equal balance of text and art, there are only two images produced by Beardsley (the cover and the title page), as compared to four in the previous issue. In a letter sent to Smithers on or about 10 July 1896, Beardsley indicates that his doctor “says [his] left lung is breaking down altogether and that the right is becoming affected” (“To Leonard Smithers” 143). Beardsley sends another letter to Smithers the very next day, writing: “I am seriously distressed myself about the drawing of mine that is to appear in the next Savoy … It would be best if possible to cancel the Death of Pierrot in this number and bring it out in September” (“To Leonard Smithers [c. 11 July]” 143). Beardsley offers, instead of the planned image of Pierrot, to “do another [drawing] to go in the same number,” and tells Smithers: “Do say yes and you shall have the thing immediately” (143). This compensatory drawing never materializes, however, and “The Death of Pierrot” did not appear until October. Even the cover image for the fourth number was sent dangerously late, arriving less than two weeks before its August publication (“To Leonard Smithers [c. 19 July]” 145).
The cover is unusual among Beardsley’s other contributions to The Savoy. The image is rather simple with respect to its line work, lacking the detail, texture, and depth of his previous cover designs; in fact, the only means by which the image produces any notable sense of perspective is through the inclusion of a single horizontal line in the background, distinguishing the floor beneath the principal figure’s feet from the wall behind her. The design is also quite tame by Beardsley’s standards, lacking his usual sense of acerbic satire and playful disregard of Victorian moral sensibilities; the only trace of his taste for the grotesque appears to be represented in the distorted physical bodily proportions of the woman, which are veiled by her dress.
The atypically simple style and the lack of any apparent scandalous subject matter can be understood as yet further evidence of Beardsley’s artistic struggle during this low point in his illness, and a reflection of its mental and physical toll upon him. One contemporary review from The Scotsman recognizes that this issue of The Savoy “has not so much of Mr. Aubrey Beardsley’s work in it as one would like to see,” and moreover, that the cover and title page “do not show him at his best” (“The Magazines”). The reviewer for The Yorkshire Post is far less polite about the quality of Beardsley’s limited contributions:
It exacts concessions from the preferences of an acquired taste to appreciate with full ecstasy what we suppose is due to Mr. Aubrey Beardsley’s design on the cover of The Savoy. The figure there outlined in a balloonish robe is decorative, and that is all that nature deemed necessary. (“The August Magazines”)While neither reviewer was likely aware of Beardsley’s illness, they both indicate a dissatisfaction with the quality of the cover design and Beardsley’s lack of presence in the issue.
The cover design, however, can also be interpreted as part of Beardsley’s “increasingly death-haunted imagination” (Nelson 83), a theme that, as his early plans for “The Death of Pierrot” further suggests, preoccupied him during this period. In its muted grotesqueness, the outstretched hands of the Pre-Raphaelite-styled woman, touching the grapes upon the ornate stand, precisely mirrors the form of an earlier image of Beardsley’s: The Climax, published in 1894. Produced for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, The Climax depicts Salome holding up the severed head of John the Baptist, making ready to kiss it. The formal symmetry between these two images connects the cover of this issue of The Savoy with Beardsley’s previous work concerning death. Furthermore, reading the image from left to right, there is a sense of loss in the decreasing level of detail from the ornate stand to the woman to the veil, a failing visibility and distinctness as the scene is encroached upon by the veil occupying half of the image. The woman herself is partially shrouded by this veil as well: the hem of her robe falls just within it. One can read this image not as one of death, then, but of dying, the slow, unflattering departure from life—a theme that, as “Beardsley’s illness was intensifying,” indicates how “he self-consciously approached his own death” (Fletcher 118).
While there is relatively little from Beardsley in this issue, his absence makes room for several notable contributions by artists already associated with the magazine. Joseph Pennell had contributed an article on English book illustration in the 1860s and 1870s and two etchings of London scenes, one of Regent Street, and the other of Trafalgar Square, to the first two issues. He returns in Volume 4 with “A Fair at Chartres,” an image which accompanies Arthur Symons’s account of the preparations for a “gingerbread fair” in another French town, Vincennes. Pennell had visited Chartres in 1893, following a stay in Paris with Beardsley in which they sketched the gargoyles at Notre Dame. Beardsley, ever the provocateur, substituted Pennell’s profile for the face of one of the leering monsters and then sold the resulting sketch to the Pall Mall Budget (Pennell 215). Pennell was working at the time on the etchings for French Cathedrals, Monasteries, and Abbeys, and Sacred Sites of France (1909), a book co-authored with his wife, Elizabeth Robins Pennell, but it is not, in this instance, the town’s celebrated house of worship that captures his attention, but a crowd of townsfolk gathered at dusk in the town’s square, ready to be entertained. Pennell’s etchings of grand civic buildings and scenes of industry were admired for their meticulous attention to architectural detail and sophisticated use of perspective (Young 84). In this sketch, the scene is rendered in a quick, improvisatory manner, with dense black lines gradually giving way to open white space to create the illusion of light pouring forth from a building, illuminating the townsfolk. The striking result is well suited to Symons’s account of the how the “crude colours” of the fair’s ragtag band of performers, suddenly, with the fall of night, “assume their right aspect” and “become harmonious, under the artificial light (“Gingerbread Fair” 82).
William T. Horton was a young artist who, according to James G. Nelson, was likely being groomed by Smithers to serve as his chief illustrator in the event of Beardsley’s death (98). Horton had previously contributed three pieces to 2, and for this issue he provides a vignette and a cul-de-lampe for Ford Madox Hueffer’s “The Song of the Women: A Wealden Trio.” Though he is best known today as a novelist, Hueffer (who subsequently changed his name to Ford Madox Ford) here demonstrates his skill in verse, offering a plaintive account of yuletide caroling among the hungry and poor in eastern Sussex. Horton’s angular lines and distorted use of perspective, however, gives the scene an eerie quality more reminiscent of the witches scrying the fate of Macbeth than the red-cheeked carolers that might adorn a Victorian Christmas card.
Charles Conder was among the group of artists and writers, including Symons and Beardsley, who had decamped to Dieppe in the summer of 1896 to lay the plans for what would become The Savoy—it was, in fact, his invitation to Symons in July that lured the newly-named editor and his colleagues to the French coastal town in the first place (Beckson 121). Conder provided an illustration for the English translation of a poem by Paul Verlaine in Volume 1, and returns here with a reprinting of his frontispiece for Honoré de Balzac’s La Fille Aux Yeux d’Or (1835). The book was admired by decadents and aesthetes for its depiction of a lesbian love affair with deadly consequences. Smithers commissioned Conder in 1895 to produce six illustrations for a new edition that would appeal to the lucrative market for English translations of French novels of an illicit though artistic character. In his advertisements for the book, the publisher directs the prospective buyer’s attention to “the method of producing the illustrations—viz. wood engraving, which, it is hoped, will be a welcome change from the cheap photographic processes now so in vogue” (qtd. in Nelson 107). Smithers’s edition appeared in a run of 500 copies in January of 1896; the reprinting of its frontispiece eight months later in The Savoy is a testament both to Conder’s provocative design and the editor’s need to come up with quality artwork on short notice.
The most discussed feature of Volume 4, however, was undoubtedly William Blake’s watercolour drawings, paired with W.B. Yeats’s second essay concerning the artist’s work on Danté. As noted in the introduction to Volume 3, W.H. Smith & Company (one of the most prominent booksellers in England at the time), refused to carry the magazine owing to its concern for the decency of Blake’s “Antaeus Setting Virgil and Dante Upon the Verge of Cocytus.” Despite the controversy these images aroused, and the economic losses entailed, this issue presents equally as many reproductions of Blake’s watercolour drawings, including “The Circle of Thieves,” which, yet again, depicts male nudity. The inclusion of Blake’s work in this volume is thus a silent repudiation of Smith & Co.’s moralizing boycott of the magazine. It serves, too, as a further indication of The Savoy’s commitment to the ethos of l’art pour l’art or, as Arthur Symons phrases it in the Editorial Note for the magazine’s first issue, the belief that “all art is good which is good art” (5).
As reviews of Volume 4 indicate, the continued publication of Blake’s watercolours alongside Yeats’s essay became the focal point of the issue’s reception. For instance, the review in The Leeds Mercury begins: “The attraction to most persons in ‘The Savoy’ for August will be William Blake’s ‘Opinions on Danté,’ and his curious illustrations to the Divine Comedy” (“Magazines and Reviews”). The Morning Post also begins its review with an acknowledgement of Blake’s “curious illustrations” (“The Magazines for August”), and The Highland News, too, describes the artwork as “rare and curious” (“Books and Periodicals”); The Scotsman declares that “[t]he best of the pictures are the reproductions” of Blake’s work (“The Magazines”), and The Weekly Irish Times simply describes Blake as “that strange genius” responsible for these artistic curiosities (“Literature & Art”).
Beyond the contribution of his essay on Blake, Yeats also lends an editorial hand to The Savoy in this period. While Beardsley “was of little editorial help, Symons had a great deal of encouragement and assistance, by summer of 1896, from Yeats” (Daniel 181), and this can be seen through the Yeats’s correspondence with numerous contributors to The Savoy, such as Olivia Shakespear, W.T. Horton, Edmund Gosse, and William Sharp (181n27). Symons perceived Yeats as a “solicitor of contributions” (181) and it seems likely that he was responsible for the inclusion of Olivia Shakespear’s “Beauty’s Hour: A Phantasy.” Yeats was both Shakespear’s friend and love interest at the time, and had a hand not only in the story’s publication but in its composition. Yeats read a draft of the text in August 1894 when the pair holidayed together in France, and, in a letter from Yeats to Shakespear, he offers his suggestions on the development of her character Gerald, describing him as “one of those … fair haired, boating, or cricket playing young men, who are very positive, & what is called manly, in external activities & energies” (396). This notion is closely mirrored in the published version of Shakespear’s story: “With him, as with many finely bred, finely tempered Englishmen, sport was a passion; more, a religion. He put into his hunting, his shooting, his cricket, all the ardour, all the sincerity that are necessary to achievement” (16). Symons hoped that Yeats would continue to lend a hand in editing and commissioning works for The Savoy, but the Irish writer’s involvement was soon curtailed. As Anne Margaret Daniel notes, “after their summer in Ireland, Yeats became ill, his affair with Shakespear fell to his obsession with Maud Gonne,” and he began “spending more time… in Dublin than in London” (181). Yeats’s editorial role in The Savoy may have been both brief and largely unacknowledged, but his hand in Shakespear’s contribution is a clear indication of his part in shaping this issue.
Shakespear’s “Beauty’s Hour: A Phantasy” is significant not only for its connection with Yeats, however. One of few female-authored contributions to The Savoy, it depicts the dilemma of a physically unattractive woman who has the ability to will herself into becoming beautiful at night. The story, which for publication purposes was split between this volume and the next, draws on the distinctly fin-de-siècle theme of double identity, as explored earlier in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), but Shakespear’s focus on a female subject produces something distinct from these better-known texts. Shakespear’s use of the conventions of the fantasy genre, including the figure of the plain working girl whose wish to attend a ball comes true, provides her with the narrative means to challenge the ways in which Aestheticism had come to privilege the outward and the beautiful over the inward and moral. The story might also be read as a response to the New Woman figure of late-Victorian literature; Mary Gower, Shakespear’s protagonist, is a single woman who earns her own bread and is known for her intellect. Like other New Women figures in the literature of the period, she rails against the injustices of a world in which the only female attainment that seems to have value is physical beauty, and learns to regret her actions that harm another woman. The story thus concludes with both a stinging rejection of the claims of beauty and a call for solidarity among women. Shakespear’s short story was not reprinted until the first modern critical edition appeared in 2016, but this bold reimagining of the divided-self narrative from a female perspective is deserving of wider recognition.
Interestingly, Shakespear’s contribution is only one of the stories in this issue of The Savoy that emphasizes the female protagonist. In “Two Foolish Hearts: A Scene of Rustic Life,” George Morley depicts the interaction between two women who are in love with the same man. The scene takes place on the outskirts of a celebration within a small, rural town, and is almost entirely dedicated to the dialogue that unfolds between the two protagonists. Morley is little remembered today, but was a moderately successful author of the period. His other works include In Russet Mantle Clad: Scenes of Rural Life (1897), Sketches of Leafy Warwickshire, Rural and Urban (1895), and a novel, Sweet Audrey: Scenes of Country Life and Town Glamour (1898), all of which feature rural settings and regional dialects similar to “Two Foolish Hearts.” Given Morley’s specialization in this genre, the story’s pastoral setting is expected, but the attention he pays to the intricacies of female emotion is significant. Where stories of homosocial desire, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues, have most often imagined the female figure as an object of exchange between two men (50), Morley’s story focuses on the way in which two women renegotiate the terms of their friendship through their shared loved interest, a man who is notably absent from the story itself. The story thus suggests that while The Savoy was not as open to women authors as was it most notable competitor, The Yellow Book, it nonetheless shows a marked interest in the inner lives of women and the social and political challenges they faced at the fin de siècle.
This issue concludes the series of three essays on Friedrich Nietzsche written by Havelock Ellis, which began in the second volume. These essays mark one of the earliest engagements with Nietzsche’s thought in England; they remain “an excellent introduction to Nietzsche, and [their] historical importance can hardly be exaggerated” (Thatcher 105). As a testament to their popular reception and broad dissemination, the essays were later compiled and republished in Ellis’s 1898 essay collection Affirmations, of which a second edition was published in 1915; they were republished once again in the 1936 collection Selected Essays (Thatcher 101). Ellis offers a view of the philosopher’s thinking that is deeply informed by the psychology of the day. One biographer of Ellis criticizes this approach on the grounds of idiosyncrasy, since “Ellis selects only those aspects of the man which he finds interesting,” resulting in a “serious deficiency…for it leaves out of consideration all Nietzsche’s later and greater work” (Grosskurth 209). Indeed, Ellis is concerned primarily with what he terms Nietzsche’s “middle period” (57), between 1876 and 1883, considering this to be the work of “Nietzsche’s maturity” as a philosopher (59). All later works in Nietzsche’s “third period,” described by Ellis as a “period of uncontrolled aberrations” (57), are, in Ellis’ opinion, inflected with the philosopher’s declining sanity, as his choice of phrase here indicates. It is more than mere personal interest that motivates Ellis’s aversion to the philosopher’s later period, however; there is a strong theoretical reason for his choice. By placing greater importance on Nietzsche’s so-called middle period, Ellis “took on the champions of the theory of ‘master morality,’ claiming that although this was the one idea to which most Nietzsche-proponents inevitably gravitated, it was not the most representative of Nietzsche’s thought” (Stone 76). In so doing, Ellis was “able to make Nietzsche harmonize with an adherence to socialist and democratic ideals” (Thatcher 97), therefore highlighting the progressive potential of Nietzsche’s philosophy in contrast to readings that focus upon his later, more notably authoritarian works. For Ellis, the “attitude of Nietzsche’s maturity seems the ample defence of democracy” (59).
Volume 4, in many ways, marks the beginning of the end for The Savoy. Although the periodical’s decline is certainly signalled prior to this issue, Beardsley’s poor health, his waning contributions, and the calculable economic degeneration of the magazine mark a critical downward turn. Yet, this issue also demonstrates the implacability of the publication’s (and Symons’s) commitment to politically progressive and formally adventurous literature and art, regardless of its financial feasibility or popular appeal.
©2021 Alexander Morgan and Robyn MacDonald, Western University.
- Beardsley, Aubrey. “The Death of Pierrot.” The Savoy, vol. 6, October 1896, p. 33. 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/savoyv6_beardsley_pierrot/
- “To Leonard Smithers.” c. 10 July 1896. The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley, edited by Henry Maas, J.L. Duncan, and W.G. Good, Cassell, 1970, pp. 143.
- —. “To Leonard Smithers” c. 11 July 1896. The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley, edited by Henry Maas, J.L. Duncan, and W.G. Good, Cassell, 1970, pp. 143.
- —. “To Leonard Smithers.” c. 19 July 1896. The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley, edited by Henry Maas, J.L. Duncan, and W.G. Good, Cassell, 1970, pp. 145.
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- —. “The Gingerbread Fair at Vincennes.” The Savoy, vol. 4, August 1896, pp. 79-84. 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/savoyv4-symons-gingerbread/
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- Young, Mahroni Sharp. “The Remarkable Joseph Pennell.” The American Art Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 1970, pp. 81-91.
Morgan, Alexander, and Robyn MacDonald. “Critical Introduction to Volume 4 of The Savoy (August 1896)” The 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/savoyv4-critical-introduction/