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  • The Politics of Ornament:Remediation and/in The Evergreen
  • Lorraine Janzen Kooistra (bio)

In “towards a theory of the periodical genre,” Margaret Beetham observes that “the material characteristics of the periodical … have consistently been central to its meaning” (22–23). In particular, Beetham emphasizes, “the relation of blocks of text to visual material is a crucial part of” the periodical’s processes of signification and the reader’s experience of making meaning out of its time-stamped yet open-ended issues (24). While this theoretical position underlies much excellent critical work in periodical studies, it is less evident in the electronic repositories on which research in the field increasingly relies. In this paper, I examine what it might mean to inform our digitization practices with a theory of the periodical hypertext as a remediated object. Focusing on the specific editorial problem of periodical pages decorated with textual ornaments, I take as my case study The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal (1895 to 1897), a Scottish magazine scheduled for markup and publication on The Yellow Nineties Online. Making remediated Celtic ornament a structural feature of its aesthetic design and an integral expression of its larger political agenda, the Evergreen reminds us of what is at stake if our own electronic remediation practices are not adequate to the periodical objects we study. [End Page 105]

The Evergreen and periodical form: the politics of ornament

In common with The Yellow Book (1894 to 1897), The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal was a short-lived aesthetic magazine with the physical features of a book and an intense and obvious identification with a symbolic colour. With its high-quality paper, excellent printing, and single-column layout within wide margins, The Evergreen clearly took The Yellow Book for its model. But while the London-based Yellow Book was (and is) associated with decadence, the Edinburgh-based Evergreen championed regeneration and renewal—politically, spiritually, and aesthetically—as an organ of the Celtic revival and Scottish Renascence. Despite these differences, the magazines’ commonalities linked them in a periodical network of production and consumption. Among those who contributed to both serials were poet Ronald Campbell Macfie and Glasgow School artist Edward Atkinson Hornel. A number of The Evergreen’s artists show the influence of Aubrey Beardsley’s black-and-white pen work in their designs. William Macdonald, who co-wrote the “Proem” to The Evergreen’s first number, sent an inscribed copy of the magazine to Beardsley as co-editor of The Yellow Book; he would have received this Scottish tribute just as he was being fired from his post after the arrest of Oscar Wilde in April 1895 (Houfe, Fin de Siècle 105). Notably, The Bookman reviewed volume 5 of The Yellow Book (which appeared late that month, hastily cleansed of Beardsley’s artwork) together with the first issue of The Evergreen, declaring: “It is impossible to keep from grouping these two ‘seasonals’ together, and yet green is not nearly so unlike yellow as these northern and southern cousins are unlike each other” (Rev. 91).

If the periodical form is governed, as James Mussell argues, by seriality, miscellaneity, and an ontological condition of existence that posits endless continuity, The Evergreen is an outlier (24). Calling attention to itself as A Northern Seasonal, The Evergreen planned its first series to terminate with the fourth issue and substituted natural cycles for the calendar chronologies on which other Victorian magazines were serialized (day, week, month, quarter, year). Although sometimes described as a quarterly, The Evergreen is actually a semi-annual. The first two numbers, Spring and Autumn, were published around their respective equinoxes in 1895, while the second two, Summer and Winter, were published around their respective solstices in 1896 and 1896/7. Troubling the notion of the periodical form as a serial released into the world according to the regular intervals of industrial time, the format of The Evergreen asserts an alternative relationship to temporality and the body. In their “Proem” to the first number, [End Page 106] Macdonald and Thomson name “the seasonal rhythm of the earth … the ultimate system in which we live,” calling for urban life, social relations, and modern science to be reinvigorated by nature, art...


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