© Deanna Ratzki, Ryerson University 2019
Little Magazines of the Decadent Movement: A Background
During a movement of resistance to normalcy, decadent writers of the late 19th century England, commonly known as the fin-de-siècle, shed a heavy focus on diversely creative works that expansively delve beyond the conventional writing of earlier times. These newly encouraged, art and style-focused literatures cultivated an abundant feeling of creative freedom in several long-standing facets of literature that were previously common for the contemporary moment. With the rise of creativity and the resultant decline of the real and natural, cultivators of art and literature were given a newfound opportunity to delve beyond the known and into the unknown and diverse, with less culturally-implied restrictions and a readership’s desire to explore this newfound method of expression.
This sense of creative freedom led to a rise in the creation of little literary magazines, many of which only lasting ephemerally, like The Dial, which was published in five volumes from 1889 to 1897. This ephemerality stemmed greatly from the fact that many little magazines of the time were not created for the commercial world, but more so as a means of sharing and celebrating creativity (Pittock 164). Edited by artists, housemates and inferred lovers Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, The Dial is a prominent depiction of the highly creative movement in literature of the time. Not only is a great bulk of its content highly resembling of decadence, but the magazine and the dynamics of such also exert a significant sense of inclusivity far more than two-fold.
This potency of inclusive and seemingly non-objective aspects in all areas comes full circle as we explore the works themselves, and come to learn about the impact that editor Charles Ricketts had on this outcome through his many contributions to the publication through literature, editing, and wood engravings, among other artistic pieces.
The Intentions and Mandate of The Dial
Within the second volume of The Dial, published in 1892, are four eastern fairy tales, each written by editor and illustrator, Charles Ricketts. Upon an in-depth curation of each story, the recurring question arises of: what compelled Ricketts to include such diverse content and why? Through further research and analysis of both earlier and later publications of The Dial, it has been both revealed and inferred that this choice was made as an affirmation of the contemporary idea of an editorial mandate for The Dial – not only as an encapsulation of literature, but as an entity comprised of many facets beyond content.
As the closing lines of The Dial’s first volume in 1889, editors Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon leave an unsigned “Apology”. The first line of this apology reads, “the sole aim of this magazine is to gain sympathy with its views,” (36) which serves as an explanation for the purposes or mandate of the little magazine itself. After reading this apology in its entirety, one is able to better understand any editorial decision made within the publication with regards to what was included, and perhaps, what was left out as well. The short apology additionally mentions that the content is not created with hopes of appeasing the paying public, but instead with hopes of creating literary and artistic satisfaction (36). Examples of what is meant by “its [The Dial’s] views” can be extracted from a number of items within any given volume, such as illustrations, literary content and in many cases even the authors themselves. Through the diversity in each of these areas, readers are able to better understand the extensive identity of The Dial itself.
Diversity in the Non-Literary Aspects of The Dial and the Reasoning Behind it
The writing staff of The Dial consisted of several diverse heads that were not always represented at other little magazines of the time. Among these people who were known to challenge the normative way of being in their contemporary moment, were Ricketts and Shannon as well as Michael Field. In the third chapter of his book, The Late-Victorian Little Magazine, Koenraad Claes describes The Dial as a “coterie publication” (66). With this description, he refers to the publication as the product of a small group of people, who share similarities and support the ideas and interests of one another. Claes goes on to discuss both the format and the staff of The Dial as he highlights the diversity of the writers and their relations, as well as sheds focus on how there was such a variance in “interests, opinions and voices” among most. Claes, like Pittock, also focuses some of his writing on the “incompleteness” of The Dial but makes sure to note how such a quality actually works in favor of the values that the publication expresses (pp. 67-71).
This sense of “incompleteness” was not understood by all readers of The Dial, and for that reason, the second volume contains an unsigned editorial note titled, “The Unwritten Book.” Preceding the note is a half-page sketch by Ricketts that depicts a person lying calmly beside a fountain, surrounded and fascinated by a whimsical design. This note portrays itself as a follow-up to the “Apology” of the first volume in a way that depicts a sense of Ricketts and Shannon’s need to explain their feelings towards the editorial decisions they have made in the first two volumes. By looking at the first volume’s “Apology” as the editorial mandate for The Dial, we can infer that “The Unwritten Book” affirms the same intention. Within the note, the publication is described as a piece of art – and like most works of art, it is subject to interpretation and understanding. The diverse and perhaps unexpected works are described as “cunning[ly] spontane[ous], where there is no editorial fear of failure (pp. 26-27). It is through this unsigned note that The Dial’s intentions are reiterated, and the reader is reminded that the publication is not constructed for the sake of commerciality, but for the sake of “admiration” (27).
Diversity in the Literary Aspects of The Dial: “The Marred Face”
Shifting our focus to the most potent of items, the expansive literary content within The Dial serves as a glimpse into the views of the writers and editors as a collective. The four eastern fairy tales, all written by Charles Ricketts, mentioned earlier are: “The Marred Face,” “The Bridal,” “Ella the She-Bear” and “Snow in Spring,” the former taking place somewhere in Asia, while the latter three are a collection of Russian fairy tales.
As The Dial’s second volume consists of a generous amount of deliberately left blank pages as well as full-page illustrations, these four eastern fairy tales take up a substantial component of the volume. In doing so, the strategic implementation of these stories creates a sense of other-based content for the publication to use as an expanding and non-restrictive platform.
The first of the four stories, and the only one that takes place in Asia, is Ricketts’ “The Marred Face.” Two blank pages serve as bookends to this fairy tale, alongside an image by Reginald Savage titled, “The Palace Burns and Behemoth.” This image is engraved on the wood by Savage himself, and depicts a fallen rhinoceros that appears to be armored, but surrounded by flames. This fairy tale serves as a cautionary tale that essentially follows a dead lover’s haunting of the queen, via his severed head and “marred face”. Though the story is so diversely situated in comparison to other pieces within The Dial, the reader is able to explore a different aspect of literature through the common fantastic, yet realistic, style of author Charles Ricketts.
Diversity in the Literary Aspects of The Dial: “The Bridal”
The second through fourth stories are compiled as a collection of Russian fairy tales within The Dial’s second volume. Preceding this collection is the aforementioned “The Unwritten Book.” The first of the collection that follows, “The Bridal,” explores the story of a bride-to-be named Anna Mitrevna who kills Ivan Timofeievich – the man she is arranged to marry – after the narrator later reveals that he had previously killed her true lover Vladimir Kamarazin. Ivan’s brothers later kill Anna, where the short story comes to an end. This diverse and non-conventional tale (in the case of what is common for English literature) serves also as a glimpse and product of Ricketts’ inclusive and non-subjective intentions for the publication.
Diversity in the Literary Aspects of The Dial: “Ella the She-Bear”
The next story of the collection, “Ella the She-Bear,” explores the cautionary idea of changing oneself out of desire to become someone – or in this case, something – else. Within the story, Elka the she-dragon, a “White Enchantress” disguises herself as a “She-Bear” to lure young married men to approach her. The young men, not knowing that she was a dragon, would approach her and later die, “as bushes do in autumn” (Ricketts 31). An existent, young she-bear named Ella hears of Elka’s doing through her mother’s detest, develops an aspiration to become an enchantress, and goes into the forest as Elka. When no one knows who she really is, due to her disguise, Ella the She-Bear is killed as the tale comes to an end. Though this story is diverse in its setting and characters, Ricketts is able to take these unconventional aspects and apply a conventional theme, to provide readers with an understandable idea through an unusual, and therefore arguably attractive perspective.
Diversity in the Literary Aspects of The Dial: “Snow in Spring”
The final and shortest story of the Russian fairy tale collection is Charles Ricketts’ “Snow in Spring”. This story displays the bond between a brother and sister, alongside a theme of life versus death, through natural and earthly metaphors, by way of allegorical conventions. It is this story that Ricketts uses as a closing both to his collection of Russian fairy tales, and to the second volume of The Dial itself, perhaps with hopes of leaving the reader with a work that is worth pondering far beyond the time that was taken to initially read the issue.
A common trait held by many little magazines is the general intention to create something that is distinctive. Though there is a good chance that ephemerality will prevail, it is the thought of making something unlike any other that is sought after. In the context of The Dial, its short but meaningful lifespan of eight years and five volumes can attest to this thought. As commonly circulated throughout this paper, it is The Dial’s editorial mandate – put forth through the first volume’s unsigned “Apology” that reveals such a desire for – and intention of – distinction. This intention is affirmed most potently through the factors discussed above: its writing and editorial staff, the broadness and composition of the content itself, as well as the dynamics of creating the publication – together with the overt intention to cultivate creative freedom through decadence.
Claes, Koenraad. The Late-Victorian Little Magazine. Edinburgh University Press, 2017, pp. 65-71. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=5454643.
Pittock, Murray. Spectrum of Decadence : The Literature of the 1890s, Routledge, 2014, pp. 164-166. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/lib/ryerson/detail.action?docID=1757882.
Ricketts, Charles. “Apology.” The Dial, vol. 1, The Vale Press, 1889, p. 36. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, https://archive.org/details/dial_01/page/n75.
Ricketts, Charles. “The Unwritten Book.” The Dial, vol. 2, The Vale Press, 1892, pp. 25-28. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, https://archive.org/details/dial_02/page/n57.
Ricketts, Charles. “The Marred Face.” The Dial, vol. 2, The Vale Press, 1892, pp. 1-7. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, https://archive.org/details/dial_02/page/n13.
Ricketts, Charles. “The Bridal.” The Dial, vol. 2, The Vale Press, 1892, pp. 29-30. https://archive.org/details/dial_02/page/n61.
Rickets, Charles. “Ella the She-Bear.” The Dial, vol. 2, The Vale Press, 1892, pp. 30-32. https://archive.org/details/dial_02/page/n63.
Ricketts, Charles. “Snow in Spring.” The Dial, vol. 2, The Vale Press, 1892, pp. 32-33. https://archive.org/details/dial_02/page/n65.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.