The Little Magazine Reader as Flâneur

Movement and Freedom in The Pageant

Eli Burley


A Fin de siècle postcard created by R.L Wells.

What’s the difference between reading and perusing, between skimming and scanning? What does it mean when someone leafs through a book or magazine, or rifles through it, or even buries themselves in it? Why is the vocabulary for describing such an idle pastime full of so many different verbs? Because reading isn’t an idle pastime, it’s a form of movement. Like all forms of movement, everyone brings their own unique style and habits to it. This is something the writers, editors, featured artists, art directors, and printers of Victorian little magazines— especially ones like The Pageant that had such a strong Decadent thrust— understood deeply.

Gabriel Dante Rosetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei, an example of a Decadent artwork featured in The Pageant that encourages the viewer’s eyes to slowly savour and meander through its features

The little magazines of the nineteenth century engaged in a wide variety of counter-cultural practices and forms of production. The Pageant, for example, advocated for a philosophy built on the idea of cultivating dissidence. With its deep commitment to the Art for Art’s Sake approach and the cosmopolitan, miscellaneous selection of its contents, this periodical gave its readers the experience of a spontaneous encounter with the variegated facets of Modern thought and life. The sweeping, whirling, florid, intensely dynamic visuals along with the wide array of poetry, criticism, essays, and often subversive fairy tales, invites the reader to assume an attitude of receptive, unbiased exploration.

The periodical is an intrinsically ephemeral medium. During an era where everyday life was often tediously structured, these objects and their promise of alternative ways to experience and pass time offered a welcome break. While Victorian culture was heavily dictated by industrial conventions of behavior, it was perhaps just as strongly shaped by reactions bent on escaping this oppressive code of conduct. It’s no accident, then, that the time of the little magazine coincided with the time of the Flâneur. Serialized publications and the practice of consciously yet freely strolling through urban and rural space provided fresh and exciting models of leisure to increasingly mobile classes of Victorians. In this way, the idea of “wandering with purpose” spread through and revolutionized all kinds of social and aesthetic spheres of the time. In The Pageant, there’s evidence of a pervasive impulse to avoid a variety of aesthetic prejudices.

The Captive Stag by Giulio Campagnola, an etched reproduction of which is included in The Pageant’s second volume along with a critical essay describing how the stippling used to create it freed the artist from typical constraints of the medium.

Through a series of curatorial and stylistic choices, the magazine attempts to do away with certain assumed categorical hierarchies. In giving literature and pictures with a mix of different genres all equal space, the people behind the publication attempt to contest the supremacy of one medium, subject, message, or approach over the other. In so doing, The Pageant’s team lends a new sense of autonomy to the reader. They also run into a paradoxical ambiguity. No matter how wide the scope of choices someone is presented with, to choose always opens and closes possibilities at the same time. This can also be reasonably said about not choosing. To be a Flâneur, or a reader, or a creator, however, is to welcome this tension. To be any of these things, one has to walk a tightrope between activity and passivity, embracing that liminal space.

On the South Coast of Cornwall, a poem written by John Gray in the salutatory and casually perceptive spirit of the Flâneur, as featured in The Pageant volume two.