Aubrey Beardsley's images of new women in the Yellow Book
The much publicized debate surrounding Beardsley 's illustrations for the first four volumes of the Yellow Book is analyzed as a manifestation of the ongoing debate over the 'Woman Question'. The time frame investigated spans the Bodley Head's launching of the magazine in April 1894, until Beardsley was fired as art editor the following April because of his connections with Oscar Wilde, whose sensational trial preoccupied the London media. With few exceptions (27 out of 31), Beardsley's illustrations for the Yellow Book were pictures of women which the magazine's reviewers, buyers and readers tended to identify with the emancipated 'New Woman' of the nineties. This concept of the 'New Woman' who demanded cultural and social equality with man, is first examined in relation to the feminist movement and the social status of women during the l890s. Then various literary, theatrical, and journalistic representations of 'advanced' women are compared to prevailing stereotypes of 'natural' or 'normal' females. The predominantly middle-class interest in both the 'Woman Question' and the Yellow Book is discussed as important parts of newly emerging alternative positions which were rapidly fragmenting the literary market-place. Much of the outrage surrounding Beardsley 's pictures is attributed to the fact that the quarterly was unexpectedly purchased by a new category of unsuspecting, middle-class consumers who had previously borrowed most of their reading material from the carefully vetted lists of circulating libraries. In addition, the public response to the different categories of Beardsley's women - his images of women reading, prostitutes and other sexual 'deviants', actresses, and masqueraders, is studied in detail. Some contemporaries connected Beardsley's illustrations with other 'deviant' socio-cultural developments (e.g. New Art, New Literature, New Theatre, socialism and decadence), all of which were seen to be directly undermining the moral fabric of society by upsetting existing social and sexual norms. Some implications of these repeated associations are explored.