Black and White and Dominant

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Crane In (and Below, and Above) the Mainstream British Press – English Illustrated Magazine, 1884-1885 (Pages 87 and 829)

Crane’s “Commune” is sterilized within Black and White, and the so-called “Artist-Socialist” is presented as a spectacle of non-conformist politics. But was this a fluke, or were the artist’s politics similarly subjugated within other mainstream publications of late-Victorian Britain? An obvious place to turn is the 1884-1885 volume of the English Illustrated Magazine, which features two of Crane’s immense illustrated poems. Though a monthly, EIM is an apt point of comparison for Black and White: it ran from 1883-1913 (Black and White’s date are 1891-1912) with similar success and sophistication in “printing and illustrative techniques” (Tye 19).

Unlike his work in Black and White, Crane’s poetry and illustrations are presented together within EIM: his text is at the core of the page, adorned by his illustrations. It may at first seem that “Thoughts in a Hammock” and “The Sirens Three” are provocatively political: in the former, Crane complains of the “Shameless lust of rule and gold,/ [and] Lawless greed grown overbold.” In the latter he likewise rails against “ruthless commerce [that] cheapen[s] hope & health.”

But if this anti-capitalistic rancor were the norm within these works, the English Illustrated Magazine, whose nationalism is displayed in its very title, would not have published them.  Indeed, these outbursts are couched within traditional rhetoric: in the first poem, Crane’s title presents his socialist fantasies as idle thoughts in a hammock; when he awakes, the poet docilely announces that he had been “Voyaging the world around,/ Yet [is] anchored still to English ground” (EIM). Similarly, the lengthy “Sirens” only becomes political in its very last pages, hiding its prickly socialism within a conventional epic narrative.

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While the English Illustrated Magazine chose to publish relatively watered-down works by Crane, Black and White went with his work at its most extreme. By turning his politics into a spectacle (announcing him as “The Artist-Socialist” and issuing its disclaimer) and by separating Crane’s poem from his illustration, Black and White more forcefully conveys its mainstream identity.

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