Laurence Housman’s The Sensitive Plant

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Shelley’s The Sensitive Plant is a lengthy poem written after the death of Percy and Mary Shelley’s first child. Laurence Housman illustrates the sombre garden scenes in a minutely detailed manner, and manages to incorporate some concerns of his own. Pan isn’t mentioned in the poem but Housman adds a Pan figure which he describes in a note as “the garden deity”, and a symbol of nature untamed.

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Laurence Housman’s End of Elfintown

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More Laurence Housman, and a book I’d not seen before. Jane Barlow’s The End of Elfintown (1894) is a typical piece of Victorian fairy poetry—her “elves” are also flower-dwelling “Fays”, and Oberon is mentioned—but Housman’s renderings give a very different impression. In place of the usual delicate creatures he shows a very sensual company, all satyr ears and enormous Pre-Raphaelite manes. The frontispiece is very Beardsley-like, especially those entwined roses.

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The Reflected Faun

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Another one to add to the stock of fauns, satyrs and Pan figures that proliferate from the 1890s to the 1920s, Laurence Housman’s The Reflected Faun appeared in The Yellow Book in 1894. The magazine’s publisher, John Lane, also published Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan in the same year although an early version of Machen’s story had appeared a few years before. What’s notable about Housman’s drawing is the way he combines in a single image several distinct themes: Faunus/Pan, the reflected Narcissus, and all those tales of beguiling spirits lurking in water. The nature of the spirit in this picture is distinctly androgynous, a detail that wouldn’t have impressed those critics who considered The Yellow Book to be an unwholesome publication. The androgyny may be taken as deliberate: Housman was one of London’s “Uranian” artists, and a few years later joined George Cecil Ives’ Order of Chaeronea, a secret society for gay men and lesbians. In the light of this, the drawing might be interpreted as a symbol for a clandestine existence where true desires remain buried or submerged.

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The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Aubrey Beardsley’s Keynotes
In the Key of Yellow
Ads for The Yellow Book
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The Great God Pan
Peake’s Pan