AUBREY BEARDSLEY (1872-98) : BITEXTUALITY IN ILLUSTRATED NOVELS = PROTO- GRAPHIC NOVELIST??!?
(From the Lysistrata works - 1896)
Beardsley's work is different from the comic book imagery and graphic storytelling we are familiar with today. Strictly historically speaking, his work would fall into the category of Victorian Illustration. His first commissioned work was for a new 1893 edition of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (first published in 1485). Unlike the work we've been looking at in class, these illustrations were produced to support and decorate the text, not necessarily to "narrate" it visually.
Though some critics have given Beardsley more credit than I have above:
"The artist complemented his critique of medieval and Victorian practices by combing male and female sexual characteristics with inanimate objects--eroticizing trees, fruit, the very landscape. Like Beardsley's animate grotesques, these artificial forms symbolize the repressed promiscuity which Malory advances as the major cause for the disintegration of King Arthur's court and which Beardsley saw rampant also in late-Victorian Britain."
193 - Zaitlin (see bottom)
WHY, then, are we interested in Beardsley?
In Eisner's FWD to GS&VN, he suggests that comics are often or have been in history, preoccupied with graphic elements and "high impact effects." In the intro he mentions that through parts of the 20th century, it has been the "fate of the comic" that "its colorful and pictorial format bespoke of simple content."
What is he calling for?
The emphasis of comics to return to the STORY, that which he calls "the most critical component in a comic." He sites Lynd Ward for his establishment of the architecture of the form, but says, "Of greater significance is the resonance of the subjects he undertook. It is these substantial themes that provide encouragement to the aspirations of comics." (xi). He also notes that from 1967-90:
"comics beginning to reach for literary content...It was the beginning of the maturation of the medium. At last, comics sought to deal with subject matter that had been regarded as the province of text, live theater or film. Autobiography, social protest, reality-based human relationships and history were some of the subjects now undertaken by comics. The graphic novel that addressed 'adult' subjects proliferated."
What Eisner lays out as the challenge to his reader / the comic artist, YOUR challenge, is to show "how far comics can go in addressing 'serious themes'." The comic book seems to be one of those art forms that is still proving itself. You may disagree with that, and you may not be interested in addressing Eisner's challenge. But this is something to think about when making work: what do you want your comic book to say?
How Beardsley is dealing with "substantial" or "serious themes," "Autobiography" (if we may extend the definition of the term), "social protest," and TRAGEDY:
Oscar Wilde's play Salomé
The original "Salome" :
- From New Testament (Mark and Matthew): Salome dances before her stepfather, Herod, on his birthday. This gives her mother the chance to get the head of John the Baptist. Herodias bears a grudge against him for implying that her marriage to Herod was unlawful. Herodias encourages Salome to demand that John be executed. In some text, Salome and Herodias have interchangeable names, or seem to be the same person.
- The name in hebrew means peace, but throughout religious texts and early literature, Salome is portrayed as cold, foolish, and seductive. Her erotic dance leads to John the Baptist's death. The original John the Baptist is a figure in the bible, the Qur'an, and other religious texts. He foreshadows both apocalypse as well as the coming of Jesus, who in some ways, replaced him has the primary prophet figure. J the B is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, Baha'i Faith, etc. He was said to have baptized jesus in the jordan river.
Captioned: The Woman in the Moon
Appears before the title page.
Plot in 10 beats:
1) HEROD'S PALACE - Young Syrian and the Page discuss the beauty of the Moon and the Beauty of Salome (the syrian is obviously crushin'). JOKANAAN, imprisoned at the bottom of a well, proclaims that the messiah is coming, foreshadows certain events
2) SALOME enters, reveals her dislike for her stepfather, the king / tetrarch Herod, and, begging the Syrian, says she wants to speak to Jokanaan.
3) PROPHET Jokanaan emerges from the well and Salome describes him (as her own reflection), revealing her attraction to him and her desire to kiss him [MEANWHILE: The syrian kills himself.]
4) HEROD and the court enter, Herod comparing Salome's beauty to the moon, which pisses off his wife (Salome's mother), Herodias, who tries to end the party [MEANWHILE: Herod slips on the blood of the Syrian.]
5) JOKANAAN announces that what he has foretold his occuring, and goes on to prophesize Herodias' slaughter. Herodias is insulted, and bickers with Herod, who is scared of Jokanaan
6) HEROD asks Salome to dance for him / she refuses / he says he'll give her whatever she wants / she dances.
7) SALOME asks for her reward: the head of Jokanaan on a silver charger. Herodias loves this idea, but Herod is scared and begs Salome to change her mind.
8) HEROD tries to offer Salome everything / anything instead of J's head -- including the release of his command. Herod knows he is being punished for looking at her, and promises to never look at anything ever again. Herod is terrified of the disaster foretold by Jokanaan.
9) JOKANAAN is executed! Salome says she will kiss his head, that Jokanaan has taken her virginity. Herod is disgusted and calls for all the torches to be put out so he doesn't have to look. Lights down.
10) SALOME kisses Jokanaan's mouth, noting it is BITTER with love. Herod looks at her one last time in the moonlight and orders her death.
Captioned: List of the Pictures.
The Young Syrian: How beautiful is the Princess Salome to-night!
The Page of Herodias: You are always looking at her. You look at her too much. It is dangerous to look at people in such fashion. Something terrible may happen.
Captioned: The Peacock Skirt.
The Young Syrian: The Princess has hidden her face behind her fan! Her little white hands are fluttering like doves that fly to their dove-cots. They are like white butterflies. They are just like white butterflies.
The Page: What is that to you? Why do you look at her? You must not look at her .... Something terrible may happen.
Captioned: The Black Cape.
The Page: Oh! How strange the moon looks. You would think it was the hand of a dead woman who is seeking to cover herself with a shroud.
Captioned: A Platonic Lament.
Jokanaan: Back! daughter of Babylon! Come not near the chosen of the Lord. Thy mother hath filled the earth with the wine of her iniquities, and the cry of her sins hath come up to the ears of God.
Salome: Speak again, Jokanaan. They voice is wine to me.
The Young Syrian: Princess! Princess! Princess!
Salome: Speak again! Speak again, Jokanaan, and tell me what I must do.
Jokanaan: Daught of Sodom, come not near me! But cover thy face with a veil, and scatter ashes upon thine head, and get thee to the desert and seek out the Son of Man.
Salome: Who is he, the Son of Man? Is eh as beautiful as thou art, Jokanaan?
Captioned: John and Salome.
[about 5 pages before actual entrance, when she is scolding Herod for always looking at Salome]
Salome: I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. I will kiss thy mouth.
[Here, the Syrian kills himself.]
Captioned: Enter Herodias.
Herod: You see how you have brought up this daughter of yours.
Herodias: My daughter and I come of a royal race. As for thee, thy father was a camel driver! He was also a robber!
Herod: Thou liest!
Herodias: Thou knowest well that it is true.
Herod: Salome, come and sit next to me. I with give thee the trone of thy mother.
Salome: I am not tired, Tetrarch.
Herodias: See what she thinks of you.
Herod: Bring me--what is it that I desire? I forget. Ah! ah! I remember.
Captioned: The Eyes of Herod.
captioned: The Stomach Dance.
Herod: Salome, Salome, dance for me. I pray thee dance for me. I am sad to-night. Yes; I am passing sad to-night. When I came hither I slipped in blood, which is an evil omen; and I heard, I am sure I heard in the air a beating of wings, a beating of giant wings. I cannot tell what they mean... I am sad to-night. Therefore dance for me. Dance for me, Salome, I beseech you. If you dance for me you may ask of me what you will, and I will give it you, even unto the half of my kingdom.
Captioned: The Toillette of Salome. - I
Salome: I am awaiting until my slaves bring perfumes to me and the seven veils, and take off my sandals.
Captioned: The Toillette of Salome. - II
Salome: I do not heed my mother. It is for mine own pleasure that I ask the head of Jokanaan in a silver charger. You hath sworn, Herod. Forget no that you have sworn an oath.
Herod: I know it. I have sworn by my gods. I know it well. But I pray you, Salome, ask of me something else. Ask of me the half of my kingdom, and I will give it to you. But ask not of me what you have asked.
Salome: I ask of you the head of Jokanaan.
Captioned: The Dancer's Reward.
Salome: ... Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit. Yes, I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. I said it; did I not say it? I said it. Ah! I will kiss it now... What shall I do now, Jokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire. Ah! ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Jokanaan? If thou hadst looked at me thou hadst loved me. Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me...I have kissed thy mough, Jokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood? ... But perchance it is the taste of love... They say that love hath a bitter taste...
Captioned: The Climax.
What elements of Aristotle's theory of Tragedy do we see in this narrative? Discuss in terms of Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.
What about Katharsis?
In what ways might Oscar Wilde be playing with those elements of Tragedy? Do you see this text as experimentational or traditional?
What was going on at the time this play was written?
What might you see as historically problematic with Wilde's text? Why might Wilde have written the play in French?
Play was banned in London in 1892 (until 1905), because at the time it was illegal to depict Biblical figures on stage.
In 1894, the play was published in English with the Aubrey Beardsley illustrations
IMAGE: dedication page: Oscar Wilde cites his boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas as translator (big dispute here, Beardsley and John Lane publisher get invovled, Wilde does translation himself, but cites Douglas to reconcile his Boyfriend)
What has Oscar Wilde changed about the Salome figure & story?
In Wilde's play, which Strauss's opera was later based on, Salome becomes a quicker, "perverse" (for her time), FEMME FATALE figure. Wilde also creates the "kissing of the head" as we know it today, and moves it to the play's "climax." Wilde's comparison of Salome to the moon -- which one could say Beardsley may or may not pick up on in the images -- links her to pagan goddess Cybele, who is obsessed with her own virginity (and takes pleasure in destroying male sexuality) -- says Christopher Nassaar (Wilde scholar).
What does this move of the kiss do to the action? What does Beardsley's Caption tell you?
What does the implication / comparison to Cybele change about the meaning of the play? Do Beardsley's drawings support this change?
Noting that the play was banned, what power does this give Beardsley's rendering of the action? Do you find his portrayals problematic? Confusing? Uninteresting? Beautiful? Theatrical?
What are the themes we see here in relation to Victorian sexual politics? In relation to the movement of Aestheticism?
Does this work get you thinking about critical narratives in comic books and graphic novels? How / why? Or why not?
Do you have ideas about illustrating someone else's narrative? What other story's do you know that have been reillustrated, remade, or re-imaged (films, tv, comics all apply)? How could you recontextualize an old story with your own illustration? (R. Crumb's Genesis) / Do you think recontextualization is important to the form of sequential narrative (Why / Why not)? Or are you totally uninterested in the idea of remakes, historical reference, and appropriation art (why/ why not)? What is it new that you have to say?
Criticism / Theory On Beardsley:
“The dialogue between picture and word participates in, and is a product of, its surrounding cultural discourses. For this reason, find-de-siecle illustrated books illuminate their period’s struggles and anxieties with regard to sex, knowledge, and power” (4, Kooistra)
“In first-edition illustrated books the artist is the first public reader of the author’s words. The artist’s illustrations constitute a pictorial reading, or criticism, of the text. In this sense, illustrated books are composed of two texts – a verbal/creative text and a visual/critical text. While art historians may object to the notion of illustration as a text to be read, the fact is that illustrations are produced for, and bound up in, a volume destined for readers. By virtue of their nature and function, illustrations combine art and literature in a special ‘branch of aesthetics’ (Darton 1931, p. 76). I name this branch of aesthetics ‘bitextuality’. Bitextual studies incorporate the srategies of both visual and verbal interpretation in order to understand how the dialogue between picture and word produces meaning within a network of cultural discourses. Representation—whether verbal or visual—is best understood as a social relationship in which various forms of power, knowledge and desire are enacted and disseminated. The marriage of image and text operates within this kind of social structure.” (4-5)
- Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen / The Artist as Critic: Bitextuality in Fin-de-Siecle Illustrated Books / Scolar Press 1995
"From 1894 through early 1895, this shrewd exploitation of the latest reproduction technique made Beardsley one of the few book illustrators able to earn a living exclusively from his art....Stylistically, he combined British, European, and Japanese artistic methods and themes to bind together text and image more tightly than had been previously accomplished. Beardsley did not merely redesign the look of book illustration. By unifying cover, title-page, and illustrations though design, he emphasized specific textual points and signalled an author's theme. But Beardsley went even further, embedding japanese themes in recognizably Western images. Iconographically, his admixture of these two cultures' art allowed him to subvert late-Victorian xenophobia as well as its hypocritical views on social roles, gender, and sex. His treatment of Japanese-inspired content, as when he reminds us that sex and the grotesque are linked, blurred the precise lines that the British drew between the proper and the improper. We can, however, understand the Japanese elements of Beardsley's art only by understanding contemporary British art, particularly the parts which he rejected. This study, therefore, sets the illustrator in his artistic context by comparing British and Japanese designs with Beardsley's and showing some ways he went beyond both." (pgs. 2-3)
- Zatlin, Linda Gertner / Beardsley, Japonism, and the perversion of the Victorian Ideal
Cambridge University Press 1997