White Space and Visual Identity in The Yellow Book



Prior to working with fin-de-siècle periodicals, I had little understanding of the ways in which white space functions on a page. I had performed layout and design work for community newspapers, but this often involved filling a page with as much content as possible. Every inch of the page had to be assigned, either to advertisements that would generate revenue or images and text that would draw eyes toward these ads. As a result, I never truly considered the ways in which designers use white space to create a publication’s identity.

In studying The Yellow Book and its surrounding critical discourses, I have come to understand the role white space plays in constructing the periodical’s identity as an avant-garde literary magazine. As Linda Dowling notes in “Letterpress and Picture in the Literary Periodicals of the 1890s,” dense leading between lines can eliminate white space and position a block of text as an image that resists intellectual engagement. At its core, though, The Yellow Book resists this notion, assigning equal value to both literary texts and images.

The periodical’s literary pieces feature generous leading between lines, allowing its readers to consume the magazine easily. This use of space also complements the form of each piece. Text-based works are arranged in a single justified column, inviting comparisons to the formatting found in books and thus emphasizing the literary nature of the essays and short stories. Poetry in The Yellow Book is published with wider margins and this extra white space serves to separate the poem from the content that surrounds it, as Bartholomew Brinkman suggests in regard to Ezra Pound’s Poetry magazine.

Yellow Book side-by-side

Yellow Book Image IntroductionImages, on the other hand, are separated from text, divorcing them from illustrative functions and upholding their value as independent art objects. Each image is introduced with a page featuring the image’s title and artist’s name in a central position on the page. By minimizing text in favour of prominent white space, these pages prepare the audience to read the page as a visual object as opposed to a textual one, guiding their consumption of the image. In this regard, The Yellow Book uses white space to participate in the bibliographic codes of literature and art, guiding the audience’s reading style and interpretation.

                                                                                                                                             Matthew Blenkarn