Book #27

The Yellow Book

Offering an entertaining introduction to the fin-de-siècle, this selection from the notorious magazine The Yellow Book includes stories and poems by famous writers such as Arnold Bennett and John Buchan, brilliant pieces by lesser-known writers such as Ada Leverson and Ella D'Arcy, and illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley.

I hadn’t heard of The Yellow Book before picking this up, and its story is absolutely fascinating.

Launched in 1894, The Yellow Book was a literary magazine filled with prose, poetry, and illustrations from some seriously distinguished contributors such as Henry James and H.G. Wells. Its yellow cover was controversially chosen as a not so subtle nod to the yellow covers of French erotic fiction. Notably, Oscar Wilde was reported to have been arrested whilst carrying a copy of The Yellow Book, but unsurprisingly this turned out to be a copy of a yellow-covered illicit novel.

The notoriety attached to the quarterly doesn’t seem to be derived from its content (excepting the alluring and provoking illustrations from Beardsley), but rather its cover, its female writers, and its introduction of new ideas and movements.

Penguin have included some prose, poetry, and illustrations in this little glimpse into what The Yellow Book had to offer its readers. The prose detailed tragedy, machinations, and even the supernatural. Beardsley’s illustrations were gorgeous in their simplicity, and it was clear to see why they would have caused a few blushes in the 1890s. Even the poetry enthralled me - particularly Stella Maris by Arthur Symons - poetry evoking anything is me is an unheard of phenomenon.

Including some of The Yellow Book’s offerings in the Little Black Classics range has been a masterstroke by Penguin; it’s piqued my interest, taught me something, and has made me determined to read more from this infamous periodical. I can’t say every one of these little black books has intrigued me in such a way, but this was my main purpose of making my way through the range, so my faith has been somewhat restored. Perhaps I should move from black books to yellow ones.