In keeping with the style of Victorian aesthetes and decadents, Le Galliene evokes themes of ennui and artifice in dwelling on manifestations of the color yellow. The choice of this particular color can be traced to a repeated link between yellow and deterioration in Victorian writing; as Katharine Khanna writes, yellow can be associated with "elements of decay"--consistent with themes of the grotesque and the negative light shone on artifice by Victorian decadents.
An emphasis on deceptive beauty as a successful transformation pervades the composition. The illusory nature of the color yellow — his chosen vehicle for expounding the prevalence of the false ornate in the natural world — is extolled repeatedly. “A few yellow chrysanthemums will make a small room look twice its size,” Le Galliene hyperbolizes, “and when the sun comes out upon a yellow wall-paper the whole room seems suddenly to expand, to open like a flower.” He goes on to transpose this mystical quality of the color yellow — the ability to transform a small room into one “twice its size” — to the very nature of human beings, questioning, “who knows but that, if we were only allowed to dye our hair what colour we chose, we might be different men and women?” This idea of successful transfiguration behind a mask of yellow hair speaks to a preoccupation with the transitory, false state of things: if person's yellow hair may be "naturally golden — unnaturally also," then how are we to know what is reality and what is part of the artifice, the grotesque dream?
In similar fashion, Le Galliene’s accentuation of a particular, intensely artificial landscape echoes the synthetic preservation of time stylistically typical of Victorian and later decadents:
Again, if in the vegetable world green almost universally colours the leaves, yellow has more to do with the flowers. The flowers we love best arc yellow: the cowslip, the daffodil, the crocus, the buttercup, half the daisy, the honeysuckle, and the loveliest rose. Yellow, too, has its turn even with the leaves; and what an artist he shows himself when, in autumn, he 'lays his fiery finger' upon them, lighting up the forlorn woodland with splashes — pure palette-colour of audacious gold! He hangs the mulberry with heart-shaped yellow shields — which reminds one of the heraldic importance of 'or,' — and he lines the banks of the Seine with phantasmal yellow poplars. And other leaves still dearer to the heart are yellow likewise; leaves of those sweet old poets whose thoughts seem to have turned the pages gold. Let us dream of this: a maid with yellow hair, clad in a yellow gown, seated in a yellow room, at the window a yellow sunset, in the grate a yellow fire, at her side a yellow lamplight, on her knee a Yellow Book
This passage flaunts the earnestness observed by Marguerite Preston, coupled with the aforementioned focus on superficiality. Le Galliene lays on thick imagery of luscious transience: flowers, “forlorn woodlands” briefly lit “with splashesÉof audacious gold” and illusory poplars carefully described as “phantasmal.” This ornate language supports his earnest tone and serves as a mockery of superficiality: in art and the real world alike.
1. The satirical nature of this work comes through in more than Le Galliene’s earnestness. He states matter-of-factly, “If the sun may reasonably be described as the most important object in the world, surely money is the next.” Do these unfounded jumps from one conclusion to the next strengthen the satirical aspect of the piece? Do they strengthen his argument?
2. Le Gallienne touches on the thematic lack of health, mentioning “jaundice and liver complaint . . . [and] yellow-fever.” Which other key assumptions of aesthetes and decadents does “The Boom in Yellow” espouse?
3. In “The Decay of Lying,” Wilde’s Vivian also mentions Japan — “the Land of the Chrysanthemum,” — associating it with “a pure invention.” What purpose does the imagery of flowers play in each of the two decandent works?
Last modified 13 March 2011