Black and White and Dominant

black and white


The “Note About Ourselves” goes on to declare: “In home politics we shall be neutral” (6 February). Yet as this editorial explains, such objectivity would be achieved through presenting “articles by men of leading parties,” suggesting that the differing views of the journal’s writers will remain within the mainstream. This conception of balanced neutrality can be seen in the ubiquitous “Medley” illustration, an allegory of the journal’s predictably monochromatic politics. As I will argue, this scheme leaves no room for the (colorful) politics that exist beyond the established, mainstream discourse of Black and White. Thus Crane’s socialist work is presented not as a valid political statement, but as a sterilized spectacle of ideology. In fact the illustration is pinned with a disclaimer that derisively announces Crane’s nonconformity.

Though that work is flagged as politically charged, overtly slanted content like the journal’s political cartoons (“The Week In Parliament”) is presented as objective. In an early issue, “Parliament” matter-of-factly caricatures a wide-mouthed politician for falling asleep, while celebrating a handful of others. Considering Black and White’searlier oath of neutrality, it is peculiar that this obviously biased column became a permanent fixture within the journal’s news section. It is similarly remarkable that Black and White would allow a caricaturist, Henry Furniss, to write and illustrate something as serious as Parliamentary chronicles (DNB). But perhaps the cartoonist’s moderate and innocuous politics can explain these incongruities: even when poking fun at certain leaders, Furniss adheres to the outlook of the ruling class.

Just as Crane is dismissed as an “Artist-Socialist” working outside of that British establishment, Black and White dispenses nationalistic condescension upon ethnic and religious minorities. An article on the “Anti-Jewish Riots at Corfu,” for instance, addresses the problem of anti-Semitism only to glorify the British empire: “The barbarities towards the Jews… strike us as ludicrously impertinent in the sunny island where British influence was for a considerable period paramount” (21 June). Likewise, “The Persecution of the Jews” loftily describes the “infinite pity” which enlightened Britons have for the “weary beast” (21 February). I will argue that this sanctimonious editorial voice is appropriated by the advertisements in the journal’s own back pages, some of which spend five paragraphs bemoaning the nation’s “physical, mental, and moral suffering” before making a pitch for “Curative Syrup” (10 March 1894)).

The quasi-anthropological sketches that accompany the articles on Jewry (titled as “Illustrations of the Lower Jewish Classes”) fit into the journal’s patronizing imagery of adorned Indians or cannibalistic African tribesmen (the latter accompanies a chapter of Stevenson’s colonial memoir “The South Seas”). The nudity and eroticism of the “Seas” illustrations are mirrored in titles like “Bundook Dancing Girls Before the Governor of Sierra Leone” (3 March 1894); the same overtones can be seen in the lifelike etchings titled “The Manipur Disaster”. The journal’s brand of colonial representation was often nationalistic, if not imperialistic. For instance, I will argue that the latter image makes a quiet case for military intervention into Manipur. Tiffin’s work on Black and White in the twentieth century suggests that the journal’s “focus on the empire” was a long-standing pillar of its own identity (Tiffin 232).

This perpetual nationalism provides a soothing remedy to the widespread anxiety of late-Victorian Britain. Yet the journal self-servingly worked to provoke its reader’s apprehensions. When the fatalistic phrase “fin de siècle” (8) appears in the first months of Black and White, it is the title of a cartoon that revels in the uncertainty and change brought by the end of the century. This twelve-panel comic cynically imagines a moral crisis at the fin de siècle, even the death of the national Victorian character. Who better to come to the rescue then this “genteel” new journal (Gooday 181), complete with concise and tasteful illustrations: one that worships the mainstream while sensationalizing the marginal, one that boasts such proud, reasonable nationalism?

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