© Emma Fraschetti, Ryerson University 2019.
The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, a little magazine edited by Somerset Maugham and Laurence Housman, was published in 1903 by John Baillie in London and in 1905 by The Arden Press in Leamington. The magazine made its debut at a time when new sociopolitical ideas about femininity began to pervade Victorian literature and public discourse. Although The Venture’s co-editors were both men, Maugham was an avid supporter of women’s suffrage and Housman was notable for his activism; acting as a central figure in the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage established in 1907.
The Venture presented Maugham and Housman with the opportunity to take advanatge of their authority as editors and participate in broader social and political affairs. Expressed throughout the magazine is a special representation and commitment to feminism; The Venture’s literary and art contents examine the varying experiences of modern women in Victorian society, and as a whole, the magazine works to promote the achievements and contributions of “New Women.” The curation of feminist work in The Venture is unlikely a coincidence, and it would be a grave loss to dismiss it as such. This analysis aims to demonstrate how William Somerset Maugham and Laurence Housman edited The Venture with a primarily feminist agenda in order to promote women’s suffrage and inspire curiosity, individuality, and activism in Victorian women.
William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)
William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris in 1874. He pursued education at the King’s School, Canterbury, Heidelberg University, and St. Thomas’ Hospital Medical school, but never practised as a doctor (Holden). Maugham’s experiences working in the slums of Lambeth during his time in medical school inspired him to write Liza of Lambeth (1897), which brought him some success and motivated him to consider a career in literature. Maugham achieved fame in 1907 with his first play, Lady Frederik, and within the next year had four plays running in London (Holden). In the following decades, Maugham wrote a number of successful novels, plays, and short stories. His best-known novel, Of Human Bondage (1915) was considered a bildungsroman as conveyed by protagonist Philip Carey, whose life drew upon Maugham’s adolescent experiences and attitudes regarding sexuality (Cordell 69). Although Maugham was married from 1917 to 1929, he primarily pursued homosexual relationships (Cordell 18). Maugham was not an activist, but he was a supporter of equal rights and women’s suffrage.
Laurence Housman (1865-1959)
Laurence Housman was born in 1865 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, and raised in a household which fostered creative expression. Out of his six siblings, Housman was the closest to his sister Clemence, whom he lived and worked closely within the arts for the majority of his adult life. Housman received his education at the Bromsgrove Art School, in London at the Miller’s Lane Art school, and at the National Art Training School in South Lambeth (Kooistra). A notable turning point in Housman’s artistic career was meeting Charles Ricketts in 1890. Ricketts encouraged Housman to shift his creative work away from the style of the Pre-Raphaelites and venture into detailed pen-based art (Kooistra). Following Ricketts’ direction, Housman achieved much success in his work. He was the first to design Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market as an independent volume in 1893, which was recognized by the President of the Royal Academy who later established his connection with Aubrey Beardsley, art editor of The Yellow Book (Kooistra). As a result, Housman succeeded in contributing his art and literature to multiple influential fin-de-siècle magazines such as The Yellow Book, The Pageant and The Dial. In addition to his craft, Housman was an activist. As a homosexual man and a supporter of feminism, Housman promoted equal rights, social justice, and women’s suffrage. He was integral in the establishment of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage (1907), an active member of the Men’s Social and Political Union (1918), and a co-founder of the Suffrage Atelier (1909) with his sister Clemence (Kooistra).
The Beginnings of Women’s Suffrage
To understand the significance of The Venture to the women’s movement in Victorian England, the state of suffrage during this time must first be considered. Women’s suffrage became a prominent social and political issue in the mid 19th century. The campaign for Victorian women’s suffrage, which began in 1866, aimed to restructure traditional gender norms in order to end female oppression and achieve equal citizenship (Smith 7). Suffragists protested for the elimination of restrictions on women’s education, employment, pay scales, and legal authority (Smith 3). In addition to active protest, the campaign encouraged feminine solidarity and pride by promoting the achievements of modern women.
A notable moment in the women’s movement was the publication of Sarah Grand’s essay, “The New Aspect of the Woman Question” in 1894, which refined and popularized the definition of the “New Woman.” Unlike the traditional Victorian woman, the New Woman was self-reliant, strong-willed, and achieved satisfaction through exercising her agency (Ledger and Luckhurst 80). Most importantly, the New Woman had ambitions beyond domesticity; she was considered enlightened because she was able to acknowledge the restrictive aspects of the “Home-is-the-Woman’s-Sphere” and seek fulfilment beyond it (Ledger and Luckhurst 89). In redefining the New Woman, Grand significantly revised the public’s perspective on conventional gender roles.
In addition to the establishment of strong female archetypes, the formation of powerful suffrage societies aided the advancement of the women’s movement. The National Central Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage merged to form The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897. Led by Millicent Fawcett, the NUWSS coordinated activism in the political sphere, acting as a liaison between suffrage communities and English Parliament (Smith 16). Also, The Women’s Social and Political Union, a “women’s-only” organization, was established in October 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst (Smith 28). Although it was not originally a militant organization, the WSPU grew forceful and aggressive in their approach to suffrage which earned members the title of “suffragettes” (Smith 31). The WSPU advocated for women’s right to vote and drew support for working-class women from trade-union organizations in England.
Periodicals and Public Discourse
Although the role of the feminist periodical is less direct, it is still crucial to examine in the analysis of The Venture as a means of influencing social development. The feminist and suffrage periodicals of the late 19th and early 20th century exemplify the relationship between art, literature, and the dominant ideologies of the public. Women’s periodicals which expressed Victorian society’s shifting ideas on feminism, human rights, and social justice not only functioned in and of themselves as activists taking part in an important public debate, but they inspired readers to examine their own lives in relation to them. Within the suffrage movement, feminist periodicals offered a foundation for inspiring independent identity formation in female readers and mobilizing collective action (DiCenzo 73). For example, the English Women’s Journal, the first feminist monthly magazine in England was published in 1858 and Atalanta, another “girl’s periodical,” began its run in 1887. Both periodicals featured writings of fiction, poetry, essay, and commentary which encouraged female activism for women’s suffrage (DiCenzo 86). Although many feminist periodicals were not widely successful among the general public and did not have very long print runs, their significance to the women’s movement has not been undermined.
A New Woman’s Venture
The examination of modern femininity and the New Woman is continual throughout The Venture. For example, “The Gem and Its Setting,” a play written by Violet Hunt featured in volume I, examines the harsh prejudice that New Women were subjected to for challenging the traditional standards of appropriate behaviour for women. The play is set in a small drawing room occupied by two women: Eve Grieve and May Day. Mrs. Grieve is ridiculed by May Day for accepting exceptionally expensive gifts from her dedicated admirer, James Knight or “Jimmy,” whom she has no intention of developing a relationship with. May ruthlessly scolds Mrs. Grieve for dressing herself in the precious gems given to her with love by Jimmy, even though it is clear that he leaves her “absolutely cold” (Hunt 117). Although Mrs. Grieve clarifies that she has never “encouraged” Jimmy “by any look or sigh” (Hunt 118), and has many times expressed her disinterest in a romantic relationship with him, May continues her attempt to evoke shame in Mrs. Grieve. May ultimately argues that even if Mrs. Grieve does not love Jimmy, it is wrong to refuse him romantically because “he comes with his hands full” (Hunt 120). Throughout this dialogue, Hunt exposes the flaws in the notion that it is unacceptable for a woman to refuse the requests of a man who acts generously towards her. Moreover, she gives a truthful account of the discrimination which modern women endured for acting in their own best interest and for making decisions which opposed traditional standards of behaviour for Victorian women.
In addition to “The Gem and Its Setting,” other works in volume I such as “Poor Little Mrs. Villiers” and “Marriages are Made in Heaven” juxtapose modern women with patriarchal environments. “Poor Little Mrs. Villers” by Netta Syrett is a short story about a recently divorced, well-mannered young woman named Mrs. Villiers who falls in love with another resident of the pension where she is boarding. The other female residents hold contrasting opinions on Mrs. Villiers and her divorce; some with ill intentions argue that divorce is “not respectable,” while others propose that divorce can be a good thing in the appropriate circumstance. Similarly, “Marriages are Made in Heaven” by W. Somerset Maugham is a play in which a divorced young woman is discouraged from remarrying by a close friend who fears that her dishonourable past will tarnish the reputation of her fiancé if he were to marry her. In these works, and throughout many of the literary contents in The Venture, the consequential injustice, discrimination, and prejudice associated with modern femininity are exposed.
The literary contributions to The Venture depict the positive experiences of modern women as well. “The Last Journey” by Netta Syrett is a short-story featured in volume II about an Englishwoman named Cecilia who boards an omnibus alone near Piccadilly Circus and rides late into the night through the city of London. She fantasizes about the lights, colours, and sounds of her environment; perceiving the magical aspects in figures such as lampposts and shadows. She seems to be satisfied in a way that she has not been in the past, as she rhetorically questions, “am I seeing it better this evening?” (Syrett 42) It is evident that Cecilia is incredibly excited to be able to exercise her curiosity, imagination, and independence. By exemplifying the experience of a woman who has achieved happiness by rightfully indulging in her own agency and desire, Syrett promotes the New Woman.
The art contents in The Venture further emphasize the ongoing sponsorship and celebration of modern femininity and the New Woman. Significant contributions to volume I include “Daphne and Apollo,” “The Death of Pan,” and “The Blue Moon.” “Daphne and Apollo,” engraved by Elinor Monsell, pays tribute to the Greek myth in which Daphne, a naiad nymph, is sexually pursued against her will as a result of her extreme beauty by Apollo, the God of light. “The Death of Pan” was engraved by Louise Glazier, an independent illustrator, wood engraver, and bookplate designer whose works were featured in numerous galleries, and in addition to The Venture, in a periodical entitled The Dome in 1900 (British Museum). “The Blue Moon” was engraved by avid activist and co-founder of the Suffrage Atelier, Clemence Housman. Not only are these works important because they promote the achievements and values of female artists, they are also important because they mark the beginning of a creative-based approach to disseminating the ideologies of modern feminism.
The celebration of the New Woman is especially relevant in the second volume of The Venture. The art contents in volume II feature intimate reproductions and analyses of New Women, mostly contributed by New Women themselves. Works such as “Joyce” by Ann Macbeth, “Autumn Leaves” by Pamela Colman Smith, “Rose of all Roses” by Constance Halford, and “Mother and Child” by Winifred Caley Robinson emphasize the power of feminine independence by depicting women confidently and intimately. In addition, artworks contributed to volume II by men such as “The Bath of Venus” by Charles Hazelwood Shannon and “Portrait in Black and Gold” by E. J. Sullivan lend a similar impression by depicting beauty, power, and grace in portraits of women. Collectively, these contributions encourage the solidarity of modern women by conveying a strong sense of pride in femininity.
The Suffrage Atelier
The Suffrage Atelier, which regarded itself as an arts and crafts society working for the enfranchisement of women, was established by Laurence and Clemence Housman in 1909 (Tickner 21). With the objective of forwarding the women’s movement by disseminating art, the Atelier produced advertisements, banners, postcards, and decorations which promoted women’s suffrage and the feminist ideologies surrounding it. Often, the arts and crafts were exhibited in galleries, published in the press, and sold for suffragist rallies and processions (Tickner 26). Unlike the members of the Artist’s Suffrage League (1907-1918) who were professional artists, the Atelier’s members were comprised of both professionals and amateurs. As a result, the Atelier also functioned an educational centre by providing artists with the opportunity to experiment and develop their technique with peers of various skill levels (Tickner 28). Moreover, women were able to form relationships with those who shared their passions and values, while engaging in important public debate through the expression of their craft. In and of itself, the Atelier was integral in the formation of women’s identities as suffragists.
Ties to The Venture
The significance of the relationship between the Suffrage Atelier and The Venture is evident in the magazine’s artistic styles, contributors, and objectives. When comparing the art in The Venture to the art created and disseminated by the Suffrage Atelier, it is important to note the medium and style in which it was produced. Most of the Atelier’s works were produced as block prints such as wood-cuts. They varied in size and were generally printed in hand-coloured black or white ink (Tickner 21). This production style is also true of the art contents in The Venture’s first volume. Volume I contains fifteen wood-cuts, all of which were printed in black ink with the exception of the frontispiece, “The Dove-Cot” by Charles Hazelwood Shannon, printed in green and yellow ink. A wood-cut from the first volume of The Venture which is especially significant to the Suffrage Atelier is “The Blue Moon,” illustrated by Laurence Housman and engraved by Clemence Housman. The first use of the “The Blue Moon,” title-page was in The Venture in 1903. Although the feature of “The Blue Moon” in the magazine functioned as promotion for Laurence Housman’s fairy tale, it further served to popularize the work of two incredibly influential activists, their achievements and their values.
Ties to the Atelier are also evident in the contributors to The Venture. A number of New Women artists who are featured in the magazine are also affiliated with the Suffrage Atelier and the women’s movement. Notably, Pamela Colman Smith, whose illustration “Autumn Leaves” is featured in volume II was a member of the Suffrage Atelier. In addition to her work as an independent artist, Smith was an activist for women’s suffrage. She contributed her stencil designs to An Anti-Suffrage Alphabet, a book by Laurence Housman (1911), and designed multiple posters for the Atelier such as “A Bird in the Hand” (Tickner 34). Smith also edited and published her own magazine, The Green Sheaf (1903-1904) for which advertisements were placed in the second volume of The Venture.
Most importantly, political ambitions and means of activism are shared by The Venture and the Suffrage Atelier. Similar to how The Venture sponsored the women’s movement by promoting art and literature which celebrated the New Woman, modern femininity, and social justice, the Atelier worked wholeheartedly towards the enfranchisement of women by publishing feminist art. Considering these similarities between The Venture and the Suffrage Atelier, and as well, noting that the first publication of The Venture preceded the Suffrage Atelier by only six years, it is likely that the magazine was deliberately edited with like intentions of inspiring female activism to those that were later involved in the establishment of the Atelier in 1909. Furthermore, it is possible that the relationships established during the creation and production of The Venture influenced the beginning of the Suffrage Atelier’s formation.
By examining The Venture in relation to the Suffrage Atelier and women’s suffrage in Victorian England, it is evident that the little magazine is historically and culturally significant because it lends insight into the direction of women’s activism and artistic involvement in the late 19th and early 20th century. As Housman and Maugham sought social justice, equal rights, and the progression of the women’s movement, it is clear that the contributions to The Venture, especially those which promote ideologies of the New Woman and modern femininity, were not arbitrarily curated. The magazine was deliberately published with a feminist agenda in order to engage the public in discourse about women’s suffrage. Moreover, The Venture is important because it created the environment and opportunity for women to participate in meaningful discussion about the social issues which directly impacted their livelihood. The Venture exists as a product of activism that intended to inspire it in and of itself.
The New Women of The Venture
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Robinson Caley, Winifred. “Mother and Child.” The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, Volume 2, 1905, p. 94. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/venture-volumes/
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Sleigh, Bernard. “The Bather.” The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, Volume 1, 1903, p. 231. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/venture-volumes/
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Smith, Pamela Colman. “Autumn Leaves.” The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, Volume 2, 1905, p. 28.
Sullivan, E. J. “Portrait in Black and Gold.” The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, Volume 2, 1905, p. 34.
Syrett, Netta. “Poor Little Mrs. Villiers.” The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, Volume 1, 1903, pp. 53-73. Yellow Nineties 2.0, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, Ryerson Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/venture-volumes/
Syrett, Netta. “The Last Journey.” The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature, Volume 2, 1905, pp. 40-52.
Tickner, Lisa. The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign, 1907-1914. University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or are being used under fair dealing for research purposes, private study, or education.