AUBREY BEARDSLEY: An Account of His Life by Miriam J. Benkovitz

AUBREY BEARDSLEY: An Account of His Life

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In this small, scholarly biography, Benkovitz (Ronald Firbank, Frederick Rolfe: Baron Corvo) makes use of intensive research and sets out ""to evaluate Beardsley's character more precisely"" and to separate him from the campy circle of his 1890s colleagues. But her cautious, strangely disjointed speculations fail to capture a convincing personality, and the result is a quotation-heavy record of events that's substantially less entertaining than Stanley Weintraub's Beardsley (1967). The primary notion here is that Beardsley indulged in ""role-playing""--a plausible enough suggestion, but one that makes him a fuzzier figure than ever while providing a wishy-washy alternative interpretation for any matter (e.g., perhaps his sexual tastes were really perverse or perhaps he was just role-playing in his art and writing). Otherwise, the story is pretty much the familiar one: poverty-line middle-class beginnings; close attachments to meddling mother Ellen and beloved sister Mabel; development of a bold-line drawing style from pre-Raphaelite and Japanese influences; poor health, drudgery as a clerk, encouragement from Burne-Jones and others; and then the breakthrough to success and notoriety with illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Salome and art-editorship of The yellow Book. Benkovitz downplays Beardsley's Wilde connection (""hardly more than an acquaintanceship""), doesn't rule out Aubrey/Mabel incest (but ""there is not one word of proof""), emphasizes consumptive Aubrey's sweet nature, acknowledges his ""near-obsession"" with sex (but often tries to explain it away), and wonders how much his near-deathbed conversion to Catholicism was motivated by the need to please patron Raffalovich. None of these points is without merit. Nor, however, do they have cumulative force of shape; and what remains is a thorough yet lifeless re-examination of the Beardsley biographical material.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1981
Publisher: Putnam