Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

American Little Magazines of the 1890s and the Rise of the Professional-Managerial Class

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

American Little Magazines of the 1890s and the Rise of the Professional-Managerial Class

Article excerpt

The craze for "fad magazines" ("fadazines" we called them) was at its high noon. It was in that miraculous year of our Lord, 1896, and whoever could get possession of a printing press in the United States was helping to burden the news-stands with monthly rubbish, filled with cheap satire and sententious pretension. Art was running amuck through Posterdom, Literature was staggering blindfold, in a drunken spree, and every dog was having his day in journalism.

Gelett Burgess

Bayside Bohemia

WHILE THE 1890S IS LARGELY ASSOCIATED with the "magazine revolution" and the birth of the mass-market magazine, Burgess's comments point to the existence of the contemporaneous efflorescence of a more experimental and amateurish form of print that he calls the fadazine. His portrait of the prolific nature of the movement, one in which he, himself, participated, is hardly exaggerated. Although accounts as to numbers vary, ranging from nearly three hundred titles identified in bibliographies of the period by F. W. Faxon to the over eleven hundred claimed by Elbert Hubbard, a major figure in the movement ("Joseph Addison" 78), there were certainly hundreds of such publications issued in the period between 1894 and 1903, all across the country, from major urban centres such as New York to smaller cities and towns, including Wausau, Wisconsin, and Muskegon, Michigan. Although these publications took their place alongside mass-market periodicals on the newsstands, they presented themselves as defiantly different from mainstream magazines in various respects. They were small in size and number of pages, artistically printed and/or oddly designed. They were linked with the "new" in literature, art, and social and cultural movements, ranging from Arts and Crafts, aestheticism, decadence, symbolism, and art nouveau to the new thought movement, the social gospel, communitarian living, health and diet fads, radical and progressive political movements, and others. Finally, they were styled as idiosyncratic and rebellious, a status frequently registered by their titles, subtitles, and mottoes. Among these were The Freak, The Whim, The Knocker, and The Iconoclast (Faxon, Ephemeral Bibelots, "A Bibliography"). The Wet Dog, meanwhile, touted itself irreverently as "a paper for those with money to burn" and Pot-Pourri was "an illustrated vagary of paper and ink conducted by a freak" (Faxon, "Ephemeral Bibelots" 126, 125). In addition to Burgess's terms, fad magazine and fadazine, this new and unusual print phenomenon went by other names like freak magazine, fadlet, ephemeral, and bibelot, including, occasionally, the term now more commonly used, little magazine. Although these magazines tended, in the period, to be regarded as all of a piece, defined predominantly by their bold appearance and rhetorical posturing, it is helpful to distinguish among three key forms: "aesthetic" little magazines, "periodicals of protest," and "hybrid" magazines. Aesthetic little magazines were those devoted wholly or predominantly to literary and/or artistic subject matter. This class included magazines featuring a mix of fiction, poetry, and critical essays and commentary, as well as ones of a more specialist nature, such as those focusing on the graphic arts or bibliophilic and book collecting interests. The Chap-Book, a magazine founded by Harvard undergraduates, was the best known of this type, setting the standard for the type as well as initiating the little magazine movement as a whole. By contrast, "periodicals of protest," a term taken from the subtitle of the leading publication of this type, The Philistine, were those wholly or predominantly concerned with social and/or political topics or alternative lifestyles and movements. Hybrid magazines, meanwhile, combined literary and artistic interests with topical political, cultural, and/or social commentary.

Despite their prolific nature and the obvious ways in which they anticipate the experimental, avant-garde, and radical modernist little magazines of the 1910s and 1920s, these 1890s American precursors have suffered from scholarly neglect. …

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