English 9179B

Making the Savoy: Aestheticism, Decadence, and the Digital Humanities

Instructor: Professor C. Keep.
Winter Half Course.

The late-Victorian period was witness to a stunning array of experiments in aesthetic theories, literary genres, and publishing formats. Glossy illustrated magazines, cheap novel reprints, and elegant little books of “Aesthetic” poetry all competed for the public’s attention in the age of steam-driven presses, commuter railways, and electric telegraphs. This course is a study of the social, intellectual, material conditions of this vibrant print culture, and the ways in which its rich history might be understood today with the tools used in the digital humanities.

The course will proceed along two parallel lines. The first will be to introduce the issues and debates within late-Victorian Aestheticism and Decadence through a study of representative texts: Pater’s The Renaissance, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, George Egerton’s Keynotes, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, and selections of poetry by Wilde, Symons, and “Michael Field.” Taking advantage of the excellent holdings of Aesthetic and Decadent books and journals in Western’s Special Collections, we will pay particular attention to these texts as material objects: how do the choices in paper, ink, typeface, and other paratextual elements mediate our understanding of these texts and what do they tell us about the possibilities and limits of mechanical reproduction?

Alongside our historical and materialist studies of these representative literary texts from the period, the seminar members will participate in the production of a digital edition of the Savoy, one of the most important and notorious Decadent journals of the period. Though it ran for only eight issues in 1896, the Savoy featured some of the most important writers of the period, including works by W.B. Yeats, Joseph Conrad, Max Beerbohm, and Aubrey Beardsley (who served as the journal’s graphic designer). Students will research the biographies of contributors, produce head notes for individual issues, and provide explanatory footnotes for the digital version. The results will be published in the Yellow-90s Online, a SSHRC-funded, open-access, peer-reviewed electronic resource that promotes the scholarly study of Aesthetic and Decadent magazines and journals. Contributions to the course that form part of the digital edition can be counted as peer-reviewed, academic publications.