The Yellow Book, 1894-1897
In 1894, the first edition of a “new literary and artistic quarterly” called The Yellow Book was published in London by The Bodley Head publishing house. The goal of the periodical was to promote the works of writers and artists who “cannot get their best stuff accepted in the conventional magazine.” Its first art editor was the controversial writer and artist Aubrey Beardsley, and the publication’s vibrant yellow cover immediately associated it with racy French novels.
The first volume’s text and illustrations drew criticism from the press for being too shocking (a judgement which followed Beardsley throughout his career). The list of authors from the first volume don’t appear controversial to a 21st century audience, but later volumes avoided established authors like Henry James and instead focused on new writers, including several women.
While Beardsley’s contemporary Oscar Wilde was never published in The Yellow Book, he is sometimes blamed for its demise. Beardsley and Wilde worked together on Salome in 1894. In 1895 Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency” for homosexual activities, and some publications reported that Wilde carried a copy of The Yellow Book under his arm when he was brought from the Old Bailey Courthouse following his conviction. Mobs soon surrounded The Bodley Head and protested. It was later confirmed that Wilde was carrying a French novel, but Beardsley was still fired and his work removed from the as-of-yet unpublished April 1895 volume.
The Yellow Book continued until 1897 and today may be best known for its separation of art from literature–unlike its peer publications, The Yellow Book included artworks that were not associated with the texts, as opposed to the more common practice of the art illustrating the text within.
Ryerson University has digitized the entire run of The Yellow Book and made it available in The Internet Archive. In addition, the Monroe Library has a complete set of The Yellow Book available for use on the third floor of the library in Special Collections & Archives. Information about a Yellow Book exhibit done by Special Collections Coordinator Trish Nugent in 2008 can be found here.
Additional information about Beardsley, The Bodley Head, and The Yellow Book can be found in many of the library’s resources. Here are just a few:
Found in the Archives is a recurring series of crazy cool stuff found in the Monroe Library’s Special Collections & Archives.