The Savoy magazine


Further retrievals from the depths of the Internet Archive (and thanks to Lord Cornelius Plum for the tip) come in the form of three bound editions of The Savoy magazine, a British art and literary periodical which ran for eight issues from January to December 1896. Aubrey Beardsley was art editor and chief illustrator, Arthur Symons the literary editor and the publisher was the heroic and duplicitous London pornographer Leonard Smithers whose patronage and, it should be noted, exploitation of Beardsley’s work kept the artist solvent during his last two years.

A thesis could be written (and no doubt has been) exploring the curious symbiosis between pornography publishers and the artistic avant garde. Smithers was a proud purveyor of what he called “smut” but he also complained about all the money he lost supporting poets and down-at-heel writers. Posterity can thank him for publishing Teleny, the classic early work of gay fiction attributed to Oscar Wilde, as well as Beardsley’s Lysistrata illustrations and The Savoy, a magazine founded in the fallout of the Wilde scandal when The Yellow Book dropped Beardsley from its staff in order to appease its more conservative contributors. The magazine’s run was short due to poor sales after WH Smith’s refused to stock it, worried again about the controversial nature of Beardsley’s art. (Speculative fiction magazine New Worlds faced similar problems with Smith’s in the late Sixties.) This seems astonishing to us now when looking at the world-class roster of contributors to the first issue, a list which included two future Nobel winners—George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats—as well as Max Beerbohm, Ernest Dowson, Havelock Ellis, JM Whistler, Charles Shannon, William Rothenstein, and Beardsley writing and illustrating the first part of his erotic caprice, Under the Hill.

Beardsley’s illustrations are very familiar from book reproduction but it’s good to see them in the context in which they first appeared, and to be able to read some of the features. The later issues include pages of adverts which always fascinate for their contemporary detail.

The Savoy: Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Aubrey Beardsley archive
The illustrators archive

10 thoughts on “The Savoy magazine”

  1. Ive yet to really explore these, but to finally be able to see them after years of looking is an amazing thing. I just wish i could smell them (the smell of old books, the ages of dust and ink and paper………perhaps its just me then……..)
    Interesting, the link between porn and the avant garde, and how it seems to have disappeared since our erotic imaginations were codified by big buisiness/media.

  2. How fantastic! I’ve searched for these a few times online over the years and found nothing. I saw a copy in a bookshop window once, stood there with my face pressed to the glass.

    I had no idea that the original Savoy suffered at the hands of WH Smiths too! I’m sure that New Worlds will be remembered in the same way by future generations, perhaps with a higher profile.

    On a related note I was appalled to see that the Cafe Royale, where Smithers & co would hang, was destroyed by the philistines recently. I swear, it’s only the lunatic fringe who are sane.

  3. Re: porn and the avant garde, I’m thinking also of Maurice Girodias and the Olympia Press which published William Burroughs, Nabokov and others with profits from the sale of sleazier works. There’s also a direct connection with The Savoy since Olympia produced an edition of Beardsley’s unfinished Under the Hill with additional chapters by John Glassco.

  4. Yeah, i was thinking of Gerodias too,and maybe sixties magazines like Screw , and maybe seventies art/porn directors like Walerian Borowczyk or Radley Metzger. Im sure there are hundreds of examples if you really go into it.

    Unsupervised Thinking: Wouldnt it be great to see New Worlds available as pdfs? wow!

  5. I think the link between porn and the avant garde is still with us, and re-emerges into public view every few years in some fresh form. It isn’t always books. Three quite recent examples come quickly to mind, but let’s not go on forever in a comments field.

    There’s definitely scope to chart the lineage from the original Savoy and the Yellow Book through Wilde, Olympia Press, New Worlds and the modern Savoy, looking at how they’ve been persecuted. And it would be interesting to see a cultural history of WH Smiths featuring due consideration of their role in this. I don’t have time to research and write such a thing properly, though.

    LCP (sounds like a chemical): yes, it would indeed. But I wouldn’t have thought it likely, as the words within are still copyright and still earning, on and off, for some. In any case, copies of NW, including the ‘tabloid’ issues, can be quite easily found. Mike Don has some for sale from time to time, and there are always auction sites.

  6. I was going to mention the copyright issue with NW. It’s also the case that the Compact editions of the Moorcock run aren’t very interesting to look at inside. The magazine became a lot more visually exciting when it switched to the larger format in 1967.

  7. A few years ago i bought dvdroms of the entire runs of Gandalfs Garden and the San Francisco Oracle, both legit, with really nice packaging. It would be nice to see New Worlds (or even the Savoy) done like that.
    LCP – what sort of chemical? I dread to think.

  8. You’re okay with small-scale journalism usually, a lot of magazine and fanzine writing is never reprinted at all. Fiction is a different matter, of course. With NW you’d need permission from all the writers or their agents first since those copyrights are under control and in many cases the authors still make money from reprints. Harlan Ellison would take a very dim view of someone distributing A Boy and His Dog (NW, April 1969) without permission. A shame since those issues were quite special.

    The Moorcock book I designed recently, Into the Media Web, is a collection of MM’s non-fiction and includes a big chunk of editorials from NW, also his history of the magazine and related pieces. It’s being printed at the moment so it’ll be announced here soon.

  9. Re NW, agree about Compact. Personally I think the Quarterly issues that followed the larger format issues are quite nice, just a bit of a letdown for their time, after the previous iteration. IIRC quite a lot of Mal Dean in there (mine are all boxed up).

    Thanks for the mention about DVD Roms of other stuff, I’ll get searching for those (or email me, unsupervisedthinking@google etc).

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