restricted access Bitextuality, Sexuality, and the Male Aesthete in The Dial: "Not through an orthodox channel"
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Bitextuality, Sexuality, and the Male Aesthete in The Dial:
"Not through an orthodox channel"


The sole aim of this magazine is to gain sympathy with its views. Intelligent ostracism meets one at every door for any view whatsoever, from choice of subject to choice of frame. If our entrance is not through an orthodox channel, it is not, therefore, entirely our fault; we are out of date in our belief that the artist's conscientiousness cannot be controlled by the paying public, and just as far as this notion is prevalent we hope we shall be pardoned our seeming aggressiveness.

The Dial, I: 36.

During the summer of 1889, two then relatively unknown young British artists—Charles de Sousy Ricketts and Charles Haslewood Shannon—unveiled the initial number of an occasional periodical they called the Dial. This first number concluded with their Apology for the endeavor, which asserted that the "sole aim of this magazine is to gain sympathy with its views."1 Like many short-lived literary journals of the British fin de siècle, the Dial flickered in and out of existence for a few years before fading into obscurity. Volume I nonetheless played a role in promoting Ricketts and Shannon's serious aesthetic ideals, doing so in a playful, slightly self-mocking way. This "first number of the series"2—particularly its showcase piece, John Gray's fairy tale "The Great Worm"—has received little scholarly attention: the varied representations of masculinity and the blatant sexual (and arguably homoerotic) imagery it contains have been largely overlooked, as well as how these factors contribute to the notion of the artist that the Dial seems to be constructing. In an earlier appraisal, Cyrena N. Pondrom [End Page 33] hailed the Dial as "the most note-worthy little magazine between the Germ and the Yellow Book,"3 yet also claimed that "in the Dial,... no one combined these [literary and artistic] elements with the social and ethical attitudes that gave fin de siècle writing its deliberately 'scandalous' characteristics."4 While perhaps not quite so "scandalous" as some later Decadent magazines such as the Savoy, the Dial certainly contained its fair share of subtle impishness, along with "ethical attitudes" of the kind associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. With the Apology, Gray's "The Great Worm," and indeed, the entirety of its literary and visual contents, the Dial promoted a specific ideal of the male aesthete while simultaneously undercutting that figure through tongue-in-cheek commentary and through the juxtaposition of seemingly serious text with self-consciously comical images.

The premier Dial's contents featured several contributions each by Ricketts, Shannon, the poet John Gray, and the artist Reginald Savage; included were illustrations, essays on French artists and authors, and a few ambiguous fiction pieces. Among the latter was Gray's "The Great Worm," a narrative with a fairy-tale-like plot. The tale begins by introducing the eponymous Worm, a rather ridiculous-looking dragon who differs from others of his kind in being docile and in preferring peaceful solitude. While out for a walk one day, he spontaneously decides to enter a nearby city, but runs into difficulty due to his size. The Worm is forced to wind around and drape himself over various buildings until he comes to the palace, where he asks to see the prince. Absurdity follows as the prince and a series of soldiers, poets, philosophers, and physicians quarrel among themselves as they assess the Worm, finally recruiting him as a general in the prince's army. The Worm is given the task of leading troops to the surrounding provinces to remind the prince's subjects of their allegiance and ensure their submission. All goes according to plan until the Worm reaches a magical green city, guarded by strange, floating white beings. After these beings retreat, the Worm prepares to collect the usual tribute from the city's inhabitants, until a beautiful woman briefly emerges from the city and offers the Worm a lily. He places the lily between his breast scales and tells his followers to set up camp. That night, the soldiers hear the Worm writhing in agony and...