Editing to Make a Statement
The little magazines of the late 19th century brought forth the emergence of the notion of the editor as an important role—specifically the art editor. The very statements that many little magazines were trying to make were predicated on the specific editing style of the magazine and the interplay, in terms of layout, between texts and images. The editor’s role was to put together elements that either complemented or contrasted with one another. Choosing the paper, layout, letterpress, and arrangement of contents shows that images are just as important as letterpress and are treated equally. Editing and producing a little magazine was a “momentous editorial event” (Claes), and can be considered a “Total Work of Art.”
A “Total Work of Art” can be thought of as the conceptual unity of form and content. It serves several functions, one of which being an organizing principle that brings cohesion to the contents. It also clearly demonstrates the collaboration between different contributors and producers. Another function it serves is to prove the feasibility of the advocated design and production of the printed text. In the Prospectus to Volume 1 of The Yellow Book, it emphasizes the importance the editors and publishers place on producing a magazine that will be beautiful in its bookmaking, modern and distinguished in its letterpress and pictures, and generally popular. The editors of The Yellow Book sought to make the magazine an “attractive and well-made object that would assure the reader from a simple glance at the bindings that the literature and pictorial art contained therein was as remote as possible from the disposable content of the also materially disposable mainstream magazines” (Claes, Introduction in The Late Victorian Little Magazine.
The Prospectus reiterates its point about the artistic value of The Yellow Book as a book more so than a periodical magazine, saying that it is of good enough quality to be put on one’s bookshelf and reread more than once rather than being thrown away; that the book has form, substance, and beauty; that it is convenient to handle, and has style and finish; and that it will make book-lovers of readers who pick it up.
All this is to emphasize the value of the editorial role in little magazines. The editors not only made the finished product look good, engaging, and dynamic, but also, in uniquely combining images and text, affected the little magazine’s societal influence and reputation. Society would perceive little magazines in certain ways based on editorial choices, and ensuing reputations that developed as readers gained familiarity with the styles of different little magazines. With the bankruptcy of the wood engraving industry in the 1890s came the proliferation of print images reproduced photo-mechanically and posters by lithography. As a whole, the relation of blocks of text to visual material is a crucial part of their meaning.