Political Paratexts of Fin-de-siècle Periodicals.


Magazines are never wholly divorced from politics. I have learned that they are also entities of Modernity that prove that image and text work in concert with each other to produce meaning for specific audiences. As discussed by Scholes and Wulfman’s “Modernisms other: the art of advertising,” magazines, their advertisements, and the way magazines sometimes construct their whole publication as advertisements, transmit cultural values. This was certainly the case for Harriet Monroe’s little magazine Poetry, which used its platform to actively construct its avant-garde and literary Chicago-based audience. Even at the level of typography and layout, however, a magazine can be designed with the conservative or the democratic in mind.

Linda Dowling’s “Letterpress and Picture in the Literary Periodicals of the 1890s” stresses the idea of the page and its type as a visual itself and how this affects its relation to image. These elements make a statement about whether a magazine is making avant-garde, low-brow, or middle-brow claims, to name a few. I observed with interest how a periodical such as The Evergreen treated all its paratexts, from the organization of its table of contents expressing holistic ideas of nature, to its deliberately finite and semi-annual print run as contributions to its rhetoric of Scottish and Celtic Renascence.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 6.31.21 PM

Note above how all the headers deal with a different aspect of spring, treating a single volume of The Evergreen as a symbolic marker of how seasons affect people at both macro and micro levels of society. See Konraed Claes’s “Literature, Community and Nature in The Evergreen” for further discussion of this.

Keeping in mind how integral these paratexts are to magazines and the audiences they consciously target, I found it a significant realization that a magazine’s paratexts were sometimes coded to include audiences that were not accepted by mainstream fin-de-siècle society. Caroline Sumpter illuminates in her essay on fairy tales in the little magazines how homosexual communities of readers were built around a coded language that relied on both text and image in relation to each other.



Orientalist notions of pederasty in foreign countries and Richard Burton’s concept of a ‘Sotadic Zone,’ where homosexual relations are “commonplace” leads Sumpter to assert that Orientalist images and metaphors became coded language for a homosexual readership. There are many instances in fin-de-siècle periodical culture, where illustrations like Byam Shaw’s for The Dome (shown above) feature Eastern imagery like the Chinese dragon, which symbolizes decadence, eroticism and perversity. The dragon, as coupled with an androgynous pre-Raphaellite beauty, also references the Arts and Crafts movement and The Dome‘s fascination with “Oriental art and culture.” Laurence Housman, a contributor to the Yellow Book also used Greek imagery that referenced the ‘Sotadic Zone’ often and alluded to Orpheus in his fairy tale ‘The Blue moon.’ According to Sumpter, Burton used the myth and figure of Orpheus to be a code for homosexual subculture and readership. So as we can see, periodicals always consciously designed themselves to draw specific audiences. Considering the power of periodicals to be mass-produced as serial publications it’s not hard to see how communities of readers were drawn together by them.

Phoenix Simms