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Oscar Wilde

When Oscar Wilde appeared in court, on 26th April 1895, to be charged on several counts of gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, he was carrying a yellow book. Nearly all – friends, enemies, the press – thought it an issue of The Yellow Book, a London based quarterly, illustrated and art edited by Aubrey Beardsley.

It wasn’t.  It was an advance copy of Pierre Louys’s AphroditeAncient Manners. But it didn’t matter. People thought it was; and if people thought it was, then The Yellow Book it was – so to speak. Anyway, most of them – the newspapers, crowds, Christians etc. – didn’t like the things Wilde liked. Windows were broken, Beardsley sacked and The Yellow Book, says its publisher, John Lane, was ‘killed.’

So, why think it was? The Yellow Book, we mean. Well, one, it was typically Wildean; two, Beardsley had previously illustrated Wilde’s Salome (best mates); three, it was yellow. Case closed.

Wait. Yellow? Really? Yup, yellow. Yellow was the colour of the hour. It covered libertine French books. The Pre-Raphaelites loved yellow. So had Swinburne.  Ruskin too. And Walter Pater. Sir Richard Burton had yellow breakfasts. William Morris’s sunflowers plastered influential walls. Yellow meant aesthete. It meant decadence. It meant Beardsley, The Yellow Book and – to finish – it meant Oscar Wilde.

True, but also not true. Wilde never did write for The Yellow Book. He didn’t like it, said it was ’not yellow at all’, and he (reportedly) didn’t like Beardsley, or his Salome pictures. Unlikely, therefore, that he would have been caught dead with a copy, let alone on his way to court.

So there you go.

Plate 33 - from The Yellow Book - Aubrey Beardsley

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Written by FreeState

January 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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