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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: tenth anniversary issue

Embler, Weller
[Rage against iniquity],   pp. [79]-93 ff. PDF (18.5 MB)

Page [80]

"Beardsley, I was defending you last night
in the only way in which it is possible to
defend you, by saying that all you
draw is inspired by rage against iniquity."
- William Butler Yeats in "The
Tragic Generation."
Matthew Arnold's observation that "poetry
is a criticism of life" could as well apply to
all works of art, and with special
pertinence to those that draw their content
from legend and myth.
Of the legends that inspired late
nineteenth-century criticisms of life, none,
it appears, was culturally more meaningful
than the story of St. John the Baptist and
Salome. The legend appealed to
the creative imagination of Stephane
Mallarmd as early as 1864 in his
conception of the verse drama Herodiade.
Though Mallarmr worked on the poem over
a period of many years, it was never
completed; but one of the sections, the
longest, entitled "Scene," was published
in a magazine in 1869.
The first finished nineteenth-century
literary work based on the legend was
Herodias by Gustave Flaubert, published in
1877. Herodias has been much admired by
scholars and with good reason. It is a
virtuoso performance with all the skill of the
writer lavished upon it.
Though Auguste Rodin's sculpture St. Jean
Baptiste (1879) is a representation of the
Baptist preaching rather than a figure of
the martyr at the hands of Herod, St. John
was a symbol for Rodin and becomes in
bronze a statement of the mighty force of
faith at the dawn of Christianity. In his
essay on Rodin, Rainer Maria Rilke
says, " 'St. John' steps forth with
excited, speaking arms and with the
splendid step of one who feels Another
follow him."'
The legend was also an inspiration for
painters of the nineteenth century.
The Beheading of St. John the Baptist
(c. 1869) by the French painter Puvis de
Chavannes is an impressive pictorial
dramatization of the legend. The essence of
saintliness is embodied in the figure of
St. John kneeling in the moonlit courtyard,

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