Why is "The Decay of Living" a conversation between two men? Or is it? Why does Wilde's piece concern itself with an "article" written for a magazine? Why does it speak so harshly of the "Tired Hedonists" who have revived the hilariously named "Retrospective Review"?

Max Beerbohm refers in the last of paragraph of "Diminuendo" to the "Yellow Book" a magazine published with great impact in late 1800s England. Founded by an influential and cosmopolitan group of writers that included Aubrey Beardsley, the magazine, as an old student of Prof. Landow's wrote, "was a new type of journal which would attract attention by its format, by its contents." For the time and audience, Oscar Wilde was very obviously absent from the magazine, having been expressly forbidden from its pages by publishers. Beerbohm — who published in "Yellow Book" — finishes "Diminuendo":

Yes! among books that charm, and give wings to the mind, will my days be spent. I shall be ever absorbing the things great men [my emphasis] have written; with such experience I will charge my mind to the full. Nor will I try to give anything in return. Once, in the delusion that Art, loving the recluse, would make his life happy, I wrote a little for a yellow quarterly and had that success de fiasco which is always given to a young writer of talent. But the stresses of creation soon overwhelmed me. Only Art with a capital A gives any consolation to their henchmen. And I, who crave no knighthood, shall write no more. I shall write no more. Already I feel myself to be a trifle outmoded I belong to the Beardsley period. Younger men [my italics], with months of activity before them, with fresher schemes and notions, with new enthusiasm, have pressed forward since then. Indeed, I stand aside with no regret. For to be outmoded is to be a classic, if one has written well. I have acceded to the hierarchy of good scribes and rather like my niche.

Wilde writes that Cyril wasn't admitted to the "elect" club of the "Tired Hedonists" because Cyril is "too old." Given Beerbohm's youth when writing Diminuendo — he was barely twenty — and his relationship to Wilde, how can we use his satire to rethink Wilde? Note: M Stetz and M Lasner write that "at a time when patriarchal control of High Art was still the rule, the Yellow Book' featured cover designs by women for four of its final issues, as well as works by large numbers of female poets and fiction writers, two of whom also served as co-editors to the magazine." Why is Wilde more than a cranky, sexist, author of rejection in "The Decay of Living"?


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Last modified 7 March 2002