“Wilde Women and The Yellow Book: The Sexual Politics of Aestheticism and Decadence,” by Sally Ledger

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Ledger, Sally. “Wilde Women and the Yellow Book: The Sexual Politics of Aestheticism and  Decadence.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 50, no. 1, January 2007, pp. 5-26.

Sally Ledger explores the ideas of the movements of avant-gardism, aestheticism and decadence in relation to The Yellow Book. She calls Oscar Wilde a leader in these movements and describes the distance, The Yellow Book ironically tried to keep from him. Both entities attempted to push boundaries and so were in natural competition. After the arrest of Wilde and the removal of Aubrey Beardsley, Henry Harland was joined by John Lane, the publisher, to co-edit the magazine. This article is particularly interesting because it speaks on the emergence of the “New Woman” and how her figure was negotiated in The Yellow Book. Looking at Evelyn Sharp and Mabel Dearmer, we receive a female perspective of this figure. The “New Woman” is sexually liberated and unrestrained by gender norms. Ledger highlights that in the prospectus of The Yellow Book, the “New Woman” is portrayed as a woman who goes out at night alone in pursuit of intellect that can be found in the books published at The Bodley Head. Ledger points out that the woman is independent but also the victim of men who leer at her. She can be mistaken for a street walker, which is how many men writers and artists portrayed the New Woman in their depictions. This article will be helpful in depicting the female perspective of Sharp and Dearmer in their respective works, but also in analyzing E.A Walton’s portrait of a real “New Woman,” Evelyn Sharp.