Under the Hill by Aubrey Beardsley

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Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings are reprinted endlessly but his writings receive less attention even though he lavished as much care on his literary efforts as he did on his illustrations. The major work is his unfinished novel, Under the Hill, a book whose descriptive filigree is as detailed as the drawings which accompany the text, and whose erotic passages ensured that the story was never published in full during his lifetime. Extracts appeared with illustrations in The Savoy, the magazine for which Beardsley was art editor; after Beardsley’s death a longer expurgated version was published by John Lane in 1903, together with Beardsley’s other writings including two pieces of verse, The Three Musicians and Ballad of a Barber.

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The Lane volume is a recent arrival at the Internet Archive, and while most of the material is familiar to me it does feature a few pages of Beardsley’s table talk which I’d never seen before. The expurgated Under the Hill is worth reading as an introduction to Aubrey’s florid writing style (and his obsession with clothing) but so much is missing that it can’t be considered representative of the author’s intentions. Under the Hill was published in full in 1907 in a private edition by Leonard Smithers, but the book had to wait until 1959 to receive a more public presentation when Olympia Press added it to their famous Traveller’s Companion series. The Olympia edition has the additional benefit of being completed by John Glassco, a bisexual Canadian poet, and accomplished pasticheur of erotic literature. Glassco not only matches Beardsley’s style while completing the story, he also provides a detailed history of the text, and a defence of its value as literature. If you’re a Beardsley enthusiast who already has most of the artwork then the Olympia book is worth seeking out.

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New English Library reprint, 1966.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Aubrey Beardsley and His World
After Beardsley by Ryan Cho
Aubrey Beardsley’s Keynotes
Antony Little’s echoes of Aubrey
Aubrey in LIFE
Beardsley reviewed
Aubrey Beardsley in The Studio
Ads for The Yellow Book
Beardsley and His Work
Further echoes of Aubrey
A Wilde Night
Echoes of Aubrey
After Beardsley by Chris James
Illustrating Poe #1: Aubrey Beardsley
Beardsley’s Rape of the Lock
The Savoy magazine
Beardsley at the V&A
Merely fanciful or grotesque
Aubrey Beardsley’s musical afterlife
Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert
“Weirdsley Daubery”: Beardsley and Punch
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

Form and Austin Osman Spare

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The University of Heidelberg‘s scanning programme continues to be a source of delight for those of us without professional or financial access to rare book collections. Having recently made the entire run of Der Ochideengarten available, they’ve added scans of another journal that was on my list of magazines I’d been hoping would eventually turn up online. Form was the first of two short-lived publications edited by Austin Osman Spare from 1916 to 1924, the second being The Golden Hind. Spare and co-editor “Francis Marsden” (Frederick Carter) published two issues of Form before Spare was conscripted in 1917. After the war, publication resumed with two further issues. Spare aficionados have long been familiar with the drawings in these publications, many of which have been reprinted over and over in collections of Spare’s art but often with no indication of their original context.

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Seeing the drawings in situ like this not only restores the context but also sets them beside the accompanying work by Spare’s fellow writers and artists. Some of the other contributors need no introduction—WB Yeats, Robert Graves—while others have been neglected or even forgotten. Most descriptions of Form mention its following in the lineage of The Yellow Book, publisher John Lane having been responsible for both publications. But looking through the first two issues I’d say the model is as much The Savoy, the magazine that Aubrey Beardsley and Arthur Symons put together after The Yellow Book kicked out Beardsley in the wake of the Oscar Wilde trial. Yeats was a contributor to The Savoy, and two other artists present in Form—Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon—were friends and publishers of Wilde.

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The samples here are mostly Spare’s work, and only a small selection at that. Enthusiasts are encouraged to download the PDFs for themselves. I had seen one of these issues before (Alan Moore has an enviable collection of Spare publications) but the rest were magazines I’d been waiting decades to see in full. I’m hoping now that the excellent staff at Heidelberg may have copies of The Golden Hind waiting for similar treatment.

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