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Special Collections exhibit - The Yellow Book: Epitome of the 1890s Exhibit

November 20, 2008

Caught between the declining Victorian era and the stirrings of Modernism, western European culture of the 1890s, a time known as the fin de siecle, was complex and contradictory. Morbidity, tragedy, and suffering found expression in the art and literature of the time, and in the lives of its players, as many figures died young or were brought low. In contrast, curiosity and a fascination with the "new" found various forms of expression: artistic movements such as Art Nouveau, Decadence, and the Aesthetic Movement - with its rallying cry of "art for art's sake" - challenged convention; in literature, the short story format and a new focus on realism were taking hold; while culturally, the "new" included the emergence of the New Woman, an emancipated female who could work, travel, and participate in society in new ways.

Against this backdrop, The Yellow Book was published. Literary editor Henry Harland, Art Editor Aubrey Beardsley, and Publisher John Lane conceived of their publication as a forum for material that wasn't being published elsewhere, with a focus on the new form of the short story, poetry, and black and white art. In a nod to convention, established literary and artistic figures were also included in an effort to legitimize the publication.

The Yellow Book set itself apart not only through its content, but also its format. The printing was done on a fine grade of handmade paper, and works of art were well produced - an important task, as the art was to stand alone, not as illustration to the written works. Max Beerbohm, a writer, caricaturist, and Yellow Book contributor, emphasized the importance of the binding when he wrote that the publication was "not a paper thing, [but] a board thing, a book," something to "last more than a quarter of a year." The Yellow Book has lasted, and through its pages, offers a look at a complicated age.

The exhibit is located in Special Collections & Archives on the 3rd floor of the Monroe Library. For more information, contact Trish Nugent, Special Collections Librarian/Archivist,, 864-7092.