May 11th, 2007

vale of woe

le debris d'un poete

Last week I had occasion to go looking for the picture below online. I couldn't find it anywhere. For days I even considered the possibility that I had misremembered its existence, that it was some form of peculiarly aesthetic brain-fart, a pastiche of situation and hero created by my own whining brain.

But all it took was pulling the right book from my shelf and there it was, in poor reproduction, crammed into the margin alongside a chapter on Beardsley's vaguely ignominious early career. Not that his entire life doesn't stink of the mildly sordid; his entirely unscandalous association with Oscar Wilde, his respectable drag king sister, and that embarassing time when he blackmailed a friend into buying a picture for £10, only to have it snatched from an outside pocket less than an hour later.

Biogeraphers don't like him, either; they're paralysed by Bearsley's weird gallimaufrey of interests, and end up praising one section to minimise another, or denounce half his works as forgeries (made easier by an early, massive set of forged pictures which made their way into some of the books).

And he worked in a tax office as a temporary clerk, to make ends meet.

Sometimes I end up thinking how unfair it is that some people are dead. Tove Jansson. Angela Carter. But I never think that of Aubrey Beardsley. His work is that of a dead man, sleeping in the glass coffin of his own approaching death. Almost nothing he drew is finished, and those pieces that are seem to laugh and shrug -- I could have been so much better! If only my author had had more time.

Viewed through this glass, the picture of Beardsley's frail form stooped over a clerk's desk becomes doubly poignant. So little time! And wasting it on temp-work.

Although, as any artist with a day job knows, there's no guarantee that you'll use time away from work well. That time he wasted in the Tax Office he might have spent wanking, or reading clothing catalogues*.

And the figures certainly needed to be done by someone.

le debris d'un poete by Aubrey Beardsley
le debris d'un poete
Beardsley was employed as an insurance clerk, although one suspects that their carpets were not as beautiful as shown here.

* My assessment of Beardsley's interests is based on my reading of Under the Hill, his decidedly bottom drawer unfinished novel.
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