Exhibit Celebrates England's Notorious `Yellow Book'

By Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 1994 | Go to article overview

Exhibit Celebrates England's Notorious `Yellow Book'


Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IN 1893, a group of artists and literary figures hatched the idea for a magazine that would eventually become the most notorious and important British magazine of the 1890s.

It was called the "Yellow Book," and it made its debut in April 1894. Over the next three years this hardcover publication would feature the work of writers and artists from many schools and philosophies, shape the genre of the short story, and give women opportunities to speak for and about themselves.

"The Yellow Book: A Centenary Exhibition" is on display at Harvard University's Houghton Library through April 8. Material for the exhibit comes from Harvard's holdings as well as from five academic institutions and private collectors. It was curated by Margaret Stetz, associate professor of English and Women's Studies at Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.) and Mark Samuels Lasner, a bibliographer.

The exhibit features letters, original drawings, manuscripts, posters, photographs, and other material from many of the authors and artists whose work appeared on its pages, including Henry James, John Singer Sargent, Paul Verlaine, Ada Leverson, and "George Egerton" (a woman writer). It tells the fascinating, behind-the-scenes story of how this publication got started and gives a good flavor for the cultural climate of the times.

One aim of this exhibit is to show that the Yellow Book was not for an elite class of English decadents, as some suggest.

The idea for it was born when Henry Harland, a US expatriate in London; Aubrey Beardsley, a young unknown artist; and other members of "the Saint Marguerite set" informally discussed the need for a new English periodical. Unlike conventional Victorian periodicals, theirs would feature art as prominently as literature.

The Yellow Book, a quarterly, was actually a book, with yellow and black covers that presented different cover designs by a number of artists. …

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