BLAST: review of the great English vortex (1914-15)

Cover Page of Fitzgerald's <em>Rubaiyat</em> Published by Hodder &amp; Stoughton (1909)

Cover Page of Rubaiyat published by Hodder & Stoughton

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Cover of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Cover 2nd issue of <em>Woman's World</em>

Cover of the second issue of Woman's World, edited by Oscar Wilde

The Visual Landscape

In the late 1800s, magazine and print culture in England had become an enormous industry with a significant focus on visual design. Due to the lifting of tariffs and duties on advertising, “advertising and printing were now cheaper, and as a result Britain was flooded with new magazines and newspapers, many supported by money earned from ads” (Reynolds 242). The swelling middle class as a result of the industrial boom also led to a huge and literate market for these products. As a result, magazines on all sorts of subjects and for all sorts of people proliferated throughout London, which was a huge metropolis as well as the seat of the British empire. Many established magazines lasted for decades and some continue to exist today, but many others were short-lived, competing with one another for the time and money of a content-flooded consumer base. Magazines used their design elements to stand apart from their competitors or to associate themselves with more popular magazines.

While the Impressionist movement and the later Cubist and Futurist movements challenged what constituted “art”, the major literary and visual movement for the majority of this period was Aestheticism. Figures such as Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde were prominent in this movement. Many literary or hobby magazines used highly ornamental and aesthetic decorations in order to attract customers or stand out from their competitors, creating a visual identity unique to their magazines similar to the magazines in a modern supermarket. Different colors for the cover were also used to differentiate magazines as well. A decorative and distinctive cover also served a double purpose. In addition to catching the eye of a prospective buyer, the periodical style visibly marks out the owner to anybody who sees them reading the magazine in a cafe or on a train. The more stylized and colorful a magazine, the greater the effect. In order to signal the reader as having refined tastes, a magazine that is associated with the higher class being recognizable as such is a very desirable commodity. More provocative magazines such as the Yellow Book were also markers for urbanites who wished to project a cou nterculture identity. However, as more magazines were created, the market became flooded. Attempts to create more recognizable and distinctive covers just resulted in a spectrum of covers, each of which becomes less distinctive when placed together on a busy newsstand.

Fonts were relatively uniform. Crafting a new font meant carving out the lettertype to have it cast for a printer’s, a time-consuming and costly endeavour. As a result, there were very few fonts in circulation. Because fonts were so few, they were more easily recognized and became associated with their standard subject matter. For example, the 17th-Century revival font Caslon old-face “became the type-face of deliberate and principled reaction or anachronism” (Dowling 124), which put it in line with the Aesthetic movement’s medieval sensibilities. Caslon old-face or other gothic fonts were popular for the more aesthetic magazines, especially ones that wanted to elevate their subject matter. Being more difficult to read than simpler, more modern fonts, which prioritized the visual and aesthetic message of the magazines over the readability of the contents. Requiring more time and effort to read the literature also elevated it as being implicitly worth more time and effort to enjoy.

 As seen here, while the covers of many books and magazines during this time are well-decorated and beautiful, when pictured together in a group they become less distinctive. The busy and intricate design is less distinctive when surrounded by other designs that are busy and intricate.

Works Cited


Cottington, David. “The Formation of the Avant-Garde in Paris and London, c. 1880-1915.” Art History, vol. 35, no. 3, Apr. 2012, pp. 596–621. 

Dowling, Linda. “Letterpress and Picture in the Literary Periodicals of the 1890s.” The Yearbook of English Studies Vol. 16. (1986). pp. 117-131.

Edwards, Paul. Blast: Vorticism, 1914-1918. Aldershot, Hampshire, England, Ashgate, 2000.

Gasiorek, Andrzej. “The 'Little Magazine' as Weapon.” The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 290–313. 

Lewis, Wyndham, editor. Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex. vol. 1, London, John Lane, 1914. UVic SC Call number PR6023 E97Z6129 no. 1

 Reynolds, Paige. ""Chaos Invading Concept": Blast as a Native Theory of Promotional Culture." Twentieth Century Literature 46.2 (2000): 238-268. Web.

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BLAST: review of the great English vortex (1914-15)