TO VOLUME 5 OF THE SAVOY (September 1896)
Volume 5 of The Savoy appeared in September 1896. In response to the magazine’s weak sales, publisher Leonard Smithers made yet another reduction in the number of copies printed—from 2400 copies for Volume 4 to 1500 copies for the remaining four issues (September to December) (Nelson 85). This reduction lowered printing costs from a high of £103.5.7 for the second number to a low of £38.16.1 for the fifth (Nelson 86). Additionally, at only 87 pages, volume five is the shortest issue produced during The Savoy’s run. Despite these ominous signs, the fifth number shows The Savoy in good form: it includes nine new contributors and several notable designs by Aubrey Beardsley.
Beardsley’s cover for Volume 5 is signed “Giulio Floriani,” a pseudonym the artist had adopted during his time with The Yellow Book. Robert Ross, a close friend of the artist’s, noted that Beardsley intended the pseudonym to be a kind of “practical joke” (106), but it is not clear to what the joke refers. One possibility is that it is a reference to the eponymous heroine of George Sand’s Lucrezia Floriani (1846). As Matthew Sturgis notes, Beardsley made a “close study” of Sand’s novels in the original French, and the figure of the “Polish virtuoso conducting a field of flowers” in Beardsley’s poem “The Three Musicians” (which appeared in the first issue of The Savoy) is “borrowed from an episode recorded by George Sand” (255, 260). Regardless of its reference, the signature is indicative of Beardsley’s willingness to play with his public identity, a recurrent theme in many of his designs for the magazine.
The cover is also a demonstration of the artist’s mature style. According to Brian Reade, “The backgrounds of certain pictures by Watteau, and even by Claude, are distantly echoed in the atmosphere by the lake with its dark banks and overgrown Terms [i.e. pedestals bearing a statue or bust, although these toppers are sometimes missing]” (357n6). The image returns to the neo-classical garden last seen on the cover to Volume 1. However, where the earlier cover depicts the dark-haired woman being drawn into the garden by a mischievous imp, Volume 5’s cover shows her (somewhat androgynous) male companion pointing to a clearing beyond the garden. The image might also be said to indicate the way in which this issue points beyond the closely-knit coterie of London-based writers with which the journal is often associated. The Table of Contents includes a notably international roster of contributors, including the American illustrator Andrew Kay Womrath, the Greek-born symboliste Jean Moréas, the Canadian poet Bliss Carman, and the young Indian woman writer, Sarojini Naidu. This issue also features the only woman artist to contribute to The Savoy, Mabel Dearmer. Taken together, these writers and artists signal the degree to which The Savoy embraced a notably cosmopolitan ideal, one which, in Oscar Wilde’s words, sought to make “other nations a part of one’s own native heritage” (qtd. in Brown xiv).
This cosmopolitan spirit, and with it a greater willingness to draw women contributors to the magazine, may be attributed in part to William Butler Yeats. Owing to his ill health, Beardsley was less involved than previously in the day-to-day duties of editing the magazine, and Arthur Symons, the magazine’s editor, turned increasingly to Yeats for assistance during the summer of 1896 (Daniel 181). As noted in the introduction to Volume 4, it was at Yeats’s behest that Symons included Olivia Shakespear’s “Beauty’s Hour: A Phantasy.” A remarkable rewriting of the divided-self narrative from a woman’s perspective, the story comes to a sombre conclusion in this, the second and final instalment. While invoking numerous elements of the “Cinderella” folktale, Shakespear’s story ends not with the revelation of the mysterious beauty’s true identity and her happy marriage to the prince figure, but with the protagonist’s rejection of the man she loves. Better to embrace herself as she is, Mary Gower concludes, than try to accommodate herself, through magical means or otherwise, to the male fantasy of womanhood.
In addition to commissioning Shakespear’s story, Yeats also contributed two items of his of own to the literary contents of this issue. The first of these is the third and final installment of his appreciation of William Blake’s illustrations for Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Though the images that accompanied the first installment resulted in The Savoy being dropped by one of its major distributors (as detailed in the introduction to Volume 3), Yeats makes a persuasive case for the importance of Blake’s illustrations, seeing in them “a profound understanding of all creatures and things; a profound sympathy with passionate and lost souls; made possible in their extreme intensity by [Dante’s] revolt against corporeal law, and corporeal reason” (35). This installment includes two contrasting depictions of the “Car of Beatrice,” one from an unpublished water-colour by Blake, and the other a previously published design by Botticelli—in light of Yeats’s comments about the artist’s heightened sense of animal life, the very different depictions of the gryphon are worth noting. The third image is from a tracing of a previously unpublished drawing by Blake as the original was too faint to be reproduced.
Yeats’s most significant contribution to the cosmopolitan spirit of this volume, however, is the poem, “O’Sullivan Rua to the Secret Rose.” O’Sullivan Rua is a variation on Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin (or “Red Owen”), a prominent eighteenth-century poet whose “Aisling” poems, set to music and sung by travelling bards, use the figure of a beautiful woman as a symbol for the historical oppression of the Celtic peoples (Larrissy 743). Noting the “vague theories of druidic worship and of the Celtic revival that were floating about France and the British Isles during the ‘nineties,” Richard Ellmann suggests that Yeats’s writing in this period contemplated the possibility of reviving “an ancient form of worship, not, of course, in its original form, but by combining druidism perhaps with Christianity as the Golden Dawn [the occult group to which Yeats belonged] had combined Rosicrucianism with Christianity” (119). The poem draws on a rich variety of symbolic systems, with images that reference the New Testament (the “Holy Sepulchre” and “Crowned Magi” reference the death and birth of Christ), Celtic folklore (“Emer,” “Fand,” and the “Hound of Cu” are characters from Gaelic myths), and occult or esoteric religious practices (the Rose to whom the poem is addressed is an allusion to the hermetic knowledge sought by Rosicrucians). The result is both a prophecy of the “second coming” of Ireland as an independent state, liberated from the shackles of English colonialism, and a lament for its historical belatedness. The speaker ends not with a confident proclamation of the kingdom to come, but with a question: “Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows, / Far off, most secret, and inviolate Rose?” (52). Subsequently included by Yeats in his first collection of short stories, The Secret Rose (1897), and often anthologized under its abbreviated title “To the Secret Rose,” “‘O’Sullivan Rua to the Secret Rose” is a key text in the development of Yeats’s interest in mysticism, Celtic mythology, and the campaign for Irish independence.
Yeats was not alone, however, in bringing to this issue voices and themes distinct from the often parochial fare of many mass-market English periodicals. Ever the Francophile, Symons takes the occasion of his regular column, “A Literary Causerie,” to reminisce about his visit to the home of Edmond de Goncourt in Auteuil, and to extol the Paterian virtues of the novels that Edmond co-authored with his brother, Jules. His essay attests to the ongoing interest in French writers within the little magazine network, first expressed in John Gray’s “Les Goncourt” in the inaugural issue of The Dial in 1889. Like previous Savoy issues, Volume 5 also includes a translation from the French of a work by notable symbolist; however, in this case the poet, Jean Moréas, was not French, but Greek. Born Ioannis Papadiamantopoulos, Moréas received a French education while growing up in Athens. He travelled to France to study at the University of Paris in the 1870s but soon abandoned a career in law in pursuit of his literary aspirations. A significant figure in the French avant garde of the 1880s and 890s, his poetry was strongly influenced by that of Paul Verlaine, whose work had featured in the first two numbers of The Savoy. In “A First Sight of Verlaine” in volume two, Edmund Gosse described sitting with Moréas and Verlaine at a Paris café.
Symons was likely responsible, too, for commissioning the work of Bliss Carman, the only Canadian-born writer to appear in The Savoy. As editor for the New York Independent, Carman published two of Symons’s poems in 1890. The two later met in London in 1896, where Symons introduced Carman to Yeats. In a letter written to a friend, Carman describes the experience of going to meet the “dark Celtic velvet inspired mystic eloquent refined W.B.Y. himself, the William Blake of this smaller generation” (“To Louise Imogen Guiney [ca. 2 September 1896]” 109-110). Carman’s relationship with Symons was not his only contact with Aesthetic and decadent writers during this period. He met Wilde during his 1892 tour of Canada, when Wilde visited Carman’s hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick (Dirks 36). Although Carman never explicitly described his own work as “decadent,” Rita Dirks argues that the poet was a progenitor of a distinctly Canadian variation on its poetical principles, a variation that is particularly evident in his contribution to The Savoy.
A lyrical evocation of the shifting tones and moods as the sun sets on a seaside scene near the town of Scituate, Massachusetts, Carman’s “In Scituate” is also an occasion to reflect on the ways in which art may serve as “man’s comment on the book of earth” (71). In Carman’s poetic imagination, art establishes a “a rubric for the soul” that allows for a critical exploration of the natural world as a site of decadent fascination (71). Where Pater encouraged the Aesthetic critic to study any “stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours, or work of the artist’s hands, or the face of one’s friend” (154), Carman suggests that Nature itself might be “venerated as a container of strange sensations,” and that Nature, rather than the work of art, might better serve as the occasion for aesthetic reflections (Dirks 50). “In Scituate” intertwines intimate descriptions of natural landscapes alongside Carman’s poetic exploration of painting as a primary act of creation, and the genial tone of the poem seems to lack any sense of the “decadent artist’s anguished dissatisfaction” (Harris 632). Moreover, the poem resists the playful cynicism associated with decadence, and offers, instead, a poetical sensibility that is characterized not so much by “a falling away from high Victorian values,” but, rather, “a falling into nature” that becomes emblematic of a uniquely Canadian form of decadent thought (Dirks 50-51). In a letter to Guiney on 15 October 1896, Carman claims that he is “disappointed at reading ‘In Scituate’ in print,” but that he “[likes] the Savoy,” and in particular, he appreciates Yeats’s and Ellis’s contributions to the earlier issues (“To Louise Imogen Guiney” 111). Although Carman did not have high praise for his own contribution to the magazine, “In Scituate” nevertheless emerges as a work that is distinctly shaped by its transatlantic contexts, playing at the margins among Canadian, American, and British schools of verse.
It was also owing to Symons’s professional and personal connections that this number features the work of an Indian writer. Born Sarojini Chattopadhyay, Naidu is now recognized as one of the most important social activists of the twentieth century; a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, she used her poetry and prose non-fiction to defend women’s suffrage, to critique British imperialism, and to promote the cause of Indian self-rule. In 1947, Naidu became the first woman to hold the office of Governor in India and her life story has been the subject of numerous biographies, films, and television series. But in 1896, Naidu was a stranger in a strange land, having come to England on a scholarship to study at King’s College, London. Only sixteen years of age, the aspiring poet was soon befriended by Symons, Gosse, and other members of the Rhymer’s Club (described by Yeats as a place where writers “read poems to one another and talked criticism and drank a little wine” ). As Naidu’s literary mentors, these older, white, male writers quickly “cast her in the role of unthreatening sexual and literary exotic” (Reddy 572). A prominent essayist and poet, Gosse took a particular interest in the young woman writer. He told Naidu that he disliked her poems for they “were Western in feeling and in imagery; they were founded on reminiscences of Tennyson and Shelley.” His belief was that her poetry needed to sound more Indian; he recalled that “the verses which Sarojini had entrusted to me were skillful in form, correct in grammar and blameless in sentiment, but they had the disadvantage of being totally without individuality” (4). He thus “advised the consignment of all that she had written, in this falsely English vein, to the waste-paper basket” (4). Gosse persuaded Naidu to share the “revelation of the heart of India, some sincere penetrating analysis of native passion, the principles of antique religion and of such mysterious intimations as stirred the soul of the East long before the West had begun to dream that it had a soul” (5). The implication that her verse was somehow too “Western” and not “Indian” enough provides a striking example of the Indian woman writer’s position as a subaltern subject, one who was expected to adopt and internalize the ideological expectations of her white, male counterparts if she wished to participate in the world of letters.
Naidu’s contribution to Volume 5, her first published work, demonstrates the difficulties the poet experienced as she tried to ventriloquize a Western conception of the East. “Eastern Dancers” constructs the female performers not as complex individuals with their own histories, but as mere bodies in motion. They are aesthetic objects of visual pleasure in the manner of Pater’s study of the Mona Lisa, or, more to the point, Symons’s fetishistic portrayals of female entertainers in “The Gingerbread Fair at Vincennes” (Volume 4) and ballet dancers in “At the Alhambra” (Volume 5). Rather than questioning the stereotypes of non-western cultures as mystical and erotic, the text seems to endorse them. With its references to “dancers with Houri-like faces” who are “ravished with rapture, celestially panting,” the poem appears to confirm the imperialist fantasy of the east as sensual, decadent, and otherworldly (84). For all its seeming openness to diverse voices and aesthetic forms, The Savoy’s cosmopolitanism was not exempt, as the case of Naidu shows, from the paternalistic ideologies of gender and race that circulated broadly at the fin de siècle.
This volume also includes the first appearance by the only woman artist to be published in The Savoy. A successful children’s book author and illustrator, Mabel Dearmer was also familiar to the readers of the period’s little magazines. Following Beardsley’s dismissal as art editor of The Yellow Book, Dearmer became the first woman to create a cover and title page for the magazine – her design of a child riding a butterfly at night appears in Volume 9 (Maltz). “A Dryad,” her contribution to volume five of The Savoy, skillfully weaves together a variety of influences and themes, including Beardsley-esque line work in black ink, aspects of art nouveau, and the iconography of paganism. In Greek mythology, dryads are beautiful nymph-tree hybrids. The image here is of Pitys, who was transformed into a tree so as to save her from pursuit by Pan, the god of fertility, nature, and choral-song, but also a figure of licentiousness, excess, and terror (as in the word “panic”). Dearmer’s image eschews these decadent undertones, however, and invokes something of the dreamy and hazily erotic atmosphere of Pre-Raphaelite painting. Together with Womrath’s charming pen-and-ink drawing “Le Chanson,” in which a woman falls into a reverie while another languidly plucks a lyre, the artwork for this issue adds a touch of unabashed prettiness often missing from The Savoy, especially those issues more firmly under Beardsley’s supervision. An American expatriate working in Paris and London, Womrath also published designs in the Summer and Winter issues of The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal. Both Womrath and Dearmer were to contribute to The Savoy’s seventh volume.
Volume 5 also contains much that was in keeping with the tone and themes of earlier issues, however. In addition to the cover and title page, Beardsley contributes a half-tone reproduction of a sketch he had produced two years earlier, entitled “The Woman in White.” According to Reade, “The drawing evokes the title of Wilkie Collins’s famous novel, but was not necessarily an illustration connected with it. In fact it was based, though it is not known exactly when, on a drawing reproduced as a vignette in Bon-Mots of Lamb and Jerrold, 1893” (357n37). The decision to include this somewhat atypical work in the September issue is indicative of the lengths the editor and publisher would go to feature previously unpublished work by the ailing artist. The issue also features a poem by one of The Savoy’s most regular contributors, Ernest Dowson (“A Song”), and an ironic short story by Ernest Rhys that continues the magazine’s interest in the stage. “A Romance of Three Fools” elaborates the attempted romantic intrigue between three fin-de-siècle London gents and a music-hall actress from the provinces, who leads them on a merry chase to Wales, where “Cinderella” appears in her true guise as a happily married woman. Theodore Wratislaw, a new contributor to the magazine who had published previously in The Yellow Book, offers a notable contrast to the condescension and paternalism that critics such as Laurel Brake and Anne Margaret Daniel have identified as hallmarks of The Savoy’s attitude toward the figure of the New Woman. Algernon Deepdale, the protagonist of “Mutability,” proclaims his love for the beautiful, intelligent Helen Gay, but when she rejects him, rightly suspecting that his passion is less ardent than he claims. Deepdale returns to London and his mistress, a married woman who is now pregnant with his child. Wratislaw’s depiction of how Deepdale responds to this news, and his efforts to spin the rumours that follow to his own ends in the wake of the woman’s suicide, shows a keen awareness of the very different ways in which men and women have access to and mobilize power—the ending is especially chilling.
The critical reception of Volume 5 shows that the magazine continued to be seen in some quarters as an organ for decadent thought. The Scotsman, for example, comments on several aspects of the magazine’s art contents, singling out Beardsley’s evocative “Woman in White” for special praise, and mentioning that “the illustrations include, further, two drawings of ‘The Car of Beatrice,’ one by William Blake, the other by Botticelli, oddly contrasted, and another drawing of Blake’s” (8). The newspaper’s reviewer, evoking the cultural anxieties concerning manliness that dogged The Yellow Book and those artists, like Beardsley and Symons, associated with the decadent movement in the months following the arrest of Wilde, also adds that “the number, on the whole, is worthy of its predecessors, but the affectation of effeteness which is the distinguishing character of the magazine does not grow upon me” (8).
The Bristol Mercury, by contrast, optimistically writes that “the ‘Savoy’ magazine has, we think, come to stay among monthly magazines, for it has struck out a line of its own, and despite what to the uninitiated may appear as extravagance in some direction, it is always readable, and different from anything else in current literature” (8). This reviewer’s confidence in the magazine’s duration, of course, proved to be misplaced, but this volume of The Savoy speaks nonetheless to the remarkable variety and range of the magazine’s contents. Symons and his collaborators expand the magazine’s sense of “good art” to include a variety of writers and artists whose imaginative originality and eclecticism demonstrate The Savoy’s commitment to a cosmopolitan sensibility. At the same time, its contents speak, too, to the complexity of this ideal, illustrating the point at which fin-de-siècle cosmopolitanism begins to resemble, as in the case of Sarojini Naidu, a form of cultural imperialism. The enchanting otherworld to which the androgynous figure in Beardsley’s cover design gestures, the space beyond the close confines of everyday life, with its dull routines and parochial attitudes, offers no escape from the pernicious ideologies of the period.
©2021 Tanja Grubnic and Sarah Menzies, Western University.
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Grubnic, Tanja, and Sarah Menzies. “Critical Introduction to Volume 5 of The Savoy (September 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/savoyv5-critical-introduction/