The Yellow Book, published in London from 1894 to 1897 by Elkin Mathews and John Lane, later by John Lane alone, and edited by the American Henry Harland, was a quarterly literary periodical (priced at 5s.) that lent its name to the "Yellow" 1890s.
It was a leading journal of the British 1890s; to some degree associated with Aestheticism and Decadence, the magazine contained a wide range of literary and artistic genres, poetry, short stories, essays, book illustrations, portraits, and reproductions of paintings. Aubrey Beardsley was its first art editor, and he has been credited with the idea of the yellow cover, with its association with French fiction of the period. He obtained works by such artists as Charles Conder, William Rothenstein, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, and Philip Wilson Steer. The literary content was no less distinguished; authors found within its pages during the three years of its existence include:
Though Oscar Wilde never published anything within its pages, it was linked to him because Beardsley had illustrated his Salomé and because he was on friendly terms with many of the contributors. Moreover, in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), a major corrupting influence on Dorian is "the yellow book" which Lord Henry sends over to amuse him after the suicide of his first love. This "yellow book" is understood by critics to be À rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans, a representative work of Parisian decadence that heavily influenced British aesthetes like Beardsley. Such books in Paris were wrapped in yellow paper to alert the reader to their lascivious content. It is not clear, however, whether Dorian Gray is the direct source for the review's title. Soon after Wilde was arrested in April 1895 Beardsley was dismissed as the periodical's art editor, his post taken over by the publisher, John Lane, assisted by another artist, Patten Wilson. Although critics have contended that the quality of its contents declined after Beardsley left and that the Yellow Book became a vehicle for promoting the work of Lane's authors, a remarkably high standard in both art and literature was maintained until the periodical ceased publication in the spring of 1897. A notable feature was the inclusion of work by women writers and illustrators, among them Ella D'Arcy and Ethel Colburn Mayne (both also served as Harland's subeditors), George Egerton, Rosamund Marriott Watson, Ada Leverson, Netta and Nellie Syrett, and Ethel Reed.
Perhaps indicative of the "Yellow Book's" past significance in literary circles of its day is a reference to it in a fictional piece thirty-three years after it ceased publication. American author Willa Cather noted its presence in the personal library of one of her characters in the short story, Double Birthday, noting that it had lost its "power to seduce and stimulate..."
The Yellow Book differed from other periodicals in that it was issued clothbound, made a strict distinction between the literary and art contents (only in one or two instances were these connected), did not include serial fiction, and contained no advertisements except publishers' lists. Complete runs of the 13 quarterly volumes will be found in most academic (and many public) libraries, though many of these sets are, in fact, reprints produced after the turn of the century by Lane and by others. A guide to the magazine's contents, The Yellow Book: A Checklist and Index, by Mark Samuels Lasner, was published in 1998.
All 13 volumes are available to download from www.archive.org in either djvu or pdf formats: