Cover image for Publisher to the Decadents: Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson By James G. Nelson

Publisher to the Decadents

Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson

James G. Nelson

BUY

$67.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-01974-1

448 pages
6" × 9"
35 b&w illustrations
2000

Penn State Series in the History of the Book

Publisher to the Decadents

Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson

James G. Nelson

Publisher to the Decadents: Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson offers a much needed reexamination of Smithers’s meteoric career as one of the period’s leading and most misunderstood publishers. It is a handsome book, with numerous illustrations and useful appendices on topics such as Smithers and the erotic book trade and Smithers and the Chiswick Press. What emerges is a very different, and unabashedly positive, view of Smithers. To this end, and with impeccable scholarship, Nelson touches on all aspects of his enterprise: finances, gauging of a perspective audience, advertisement, production, response to reviewers, and, most importantly, his relationships with some of the most prominent authors of the day.”

 

  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Subjects
Publisher to the Decadents chronicles the experiences of Leonard Smithers (1861–1907), a key figure in the literary culture of late Victorian England. In his day he was known primarily for publishing books of upscale pornography. He became the publisher of choice for the Decadents, including most notably Oscar Wilde and Audrey Beardsley.

While a young solicitor in his native Sheffield, Smithers established a correspondence with the famed explorer and translator of exotic texts, Captain Sir Richard Burton. Burton translated The Thousand Nights and a Night (popularly known as The Arabian Nights), which was published by Smithers in 1885. Smithers collaborated with Burton in the publication of two Latin texts, the Priapeia and the Carmina of Catullus, both of erotic cast. After the death of Burton in 1890, Smithers continued a significant involvement with his work, serving as an adviser to Lady Isabel Burton. During this time Smithers formed a partnership with Harry Sidney Nichols, and together they produced a series of pornographic books under the imprint of the Erotika Biblion Society.

The years between 1895 and 1900 were Smithers’s glory years when he managed to publish a number of books illustrated by Beardsley, a magazine known as the Savoy, and books of verse by Ernest Dowson and Arthur Symons that have proved to be the finest expression of the Decadent Movement. Throughout his career Smithers sought to produce attractive, well-made books that were tastefully designed and printed.

This book provides expansive insight into the prizes and pitfalls of an early English publisher of the decadent Nineties.

Publisher to the Decadents: Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, and Dowson offers a much needed reexamination of Smithers’s meteoric career as one of the period’s leading and most misunderstood publishers. It is a handsome book, with numerous illustrations and useful appendices on topics such as Smithers and the erotic book trade and Smithers and the Chiswick Press. What emerges is a very different, and unabashedly positive, view of Smithers. To this end, and with impeccable scholarship, Nelson touches on all aspects of his enterprise: finances, gauging of a perspective audience, advertisement, production, response to reviewers, and, most importantly, his relationships with some of the most prominent authors of the day.”
“We see how the authors’ circumstances interact with the creative process; how a skillful, if uxorious, publisher supports, prompts, and cajoles his artists in often distressing circumstances; and how type, paper, binding materials, illustration, and title-page design combine in masterpieces of the publisher’s art. . . . Publisher to the Decadents will satisfy the most rigorous scholar. But it will also engage the general reader with an interest in Wilde, Beardsley, or Dowson, the decadent 1890s, or publishing history.”
“What Publisher to the Decadents provides, nonetheless, is a thoughtful, rigorous, materially grounded, and eye-opening examination of the book world in the latter half of the literary Nineties.”

James G. Nelson is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. This is the final volume in a trilogy of books on publishing in the 1890s in England. The first two books were The Early Nineties: A View from Bodley Head (1971) and Elkin Matthews: Publisher to Yeats, Joyce, Pound (1989).

Mailing List

Subscribe to our mailing list and be notified about new titles, journals and catalogs.