Whym Chow as Effigy: Design and Material Contributions to Whym Chow: Flame of Love

Graylyn Harris

Illustrated books were prevalent, and becoming more prevalent, with the accessibility of modern printing in the Victorian era. However, with the rise in illustrations and industrialized printing came the lack of personalization, detail, and added meaning to books. Whym Chow: Flame of Love’s materiality, however, does more than simply serve aesthetic beauty or reiterate the text. Its initial designs and materiality embody the essence of Whym Chow, thus immortalizing him and the love he shared with Michael Field.

Whym Chow: Flame of Love (1914) was the last book printed by Eragny Press before its closing later that same year. Lucien Pissarro met Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, publishers of the illustrated magazine The Dial (1889), and was influenced by their aesthetic, among other like-minded illustrators. Michael Field, as friends of Ricketts and Shannon, would have chosen Eragny Press based on this close circle of influence (Kooistra 4-5). The illuminated drop cap designs that appear at the start of each poem were, thus, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement (a movement dedicated to preserving and perfecting disappearing crafts), pioneered by William Morris (Fraser). Small private presses ensured quality and emphasized modern aesthetic ideals, trends, and artistic movements. The personal attention devoted to each book allowed for greater focus on craftsmanship, physicality, and the created whole to express the essence of an idea or being.

         Michael Field chose the Eragny Press in order to make Whym Chow’s printing as personal, unique, and limited as possible because, rather than a book, Field saw this work as a rare event: as the essence and immortalization of Chow, and their shared love. After all, only 27 copies were printed. In using a hand-crafted book maker, Field demonstrates their desire for the book to fit their specifications and be as close to perfect as possible. This aim for perfection alludes to Field’s love for sculptural effigies. Indeed, Ana Parejo Vadillo argues that the Fields’s love for sculpture “converge[s]” into their book production, creating “—sculptures in their own right” (68). She explains the Fields's history with sculptures and how it shapes their poetry, offering a new interpretation of their works. Like a poetic sculpture, Michael Field created the essence of Whym Chow, preserved in art. We can read the text as a monument: the poem and the work as a whole serve as an immortal monument of Chow’s devotion and shared love. This reading presents Chow in his idealized form, which indicates that the Fields saw Chow’s flaws and understood him to be an animal. However, as a commemorating tribute, they do not focus on the flaws, but the good that Chow provided in life, such as his comfort, devotion, and passion.

Looking at the text as an immortal tribute to Chow and his love has its basis in an essay entitled “Effigies” (1890), in which Michael Field describe two visits to Westminster Abbey. As Catherine Maxwell explains, Field compares funeral to sculpted effigies, and found funeral effigies to be too representative of the mortality of man. However, they appreciated sculpted effigies for their immortality because “the ideality of sculpture […] preserves the essential outlines and thus the abstract essence of a thing” (Maxwell 3). Maxwell argues that there is a tension between the interpretation of the real: the “essence” of a person versus the image of a flawed imperfect human temporally set (Maxwell 2). Likewise, Michael Field believed that true immortality through art should reflect the ideal and avoid the flaws of humanity. Their remarks on sculpture were likely influenced by John Winckelmann, who describes the idealizing impulse of Greek sculpture and its focus on god-like passions (Winckelmann 99). Again, we see Michael Field’s attachment to the idea of “god-like” beings within us, the romantic idealization rather than the imitation of life. This idealization is represented in the physicality and design of Whym Chow.

 In 1914, Katharine Bradley published Whym Chow, following the death of Edith Cooper. One of Bradley’s final acts was printing Whym Chow. She wanted the book’s physical and complete version printed before her death as a tribute to Cooper.[1] (see Emma’s essay). The physical connection to the words that she and Cooper wrote in 1906, following the death of their dog, suggests a desire to create something lasting, a work of art that immortalizes not just Chow, but Cooper, Bradley, and Chow's love. Poem XXIX provides an example of this shared love: the poetic speaker appears to be praying to Chow, asking him to be with her lover and bring her eternal peace as no one else can, thus suggesting their eternal bond. Moreover, the aesthetic features of the book seem to replicate Chow's physical body, furthering the poetic effigy of their beloved dog.

The cover of Whym Chow is russet suede. This cover was chosen to imitate Chow’s fur, physically connecting the reader with him. By choosing to print the edition in a material reminiscent of the fur, the reader feels Chow’s outer coat, a feature beloved by Field and often referred to in the poetry itself. In Poem XXIV, the poetic speaker describes the regal aspect of Chow’s fur: “In thy wondrous fur, enwrought / Of the gilded motes of sun / And the tongues of ruddy fire,” (lines 52-54). Here, gold rays of light reflect off of Chow’s fur, connecting the russet and gold colors to the sun in order to idealize Chow, and emphasize the scarcity and preciousness of the book's contents. By appealing to the senses of touch and sight, the reader is brought into the text as a participant. In addition to the cover, which enwraps the emotional contribution that the pet provided in life, the interior drop caps and select portions of text are also in the same rusty orange gold.

While the exterior physically manifests Whym Chow, the interiority of the volume reflects Bradley, Cooper, and Chow’s love through the illuminated drop caps at the start of each poem. The foliage interweaves and penetrates the lettering, representing the oneness that Chow and Field share. This oneness reflects the Christian concept of the Trinity. Throughout Whym Chow, Bradley and Cooper assert that they and Whym Chow create their own form of the Holy Trinity. In “Trinity,” Field explains that Chow represents the binding element in this union: the Holy Ghost. Bradley and Cooper use this triangulated union to keep Chow alive in them after his death, and thus maintain their relationship with one another. In this light, the vines represent Chow and his power to unite and entangle the hearts of those he loves Chow’s emotional connections and shared love with Field are thus immortalized through the foliage and natural imagery. The exterior of the book, then, physically connects the reader with Chow, while the interior focuses on Chow’s physical and emotional connection to Field: expressing Chow’s complete embodiment in the printing choices and the aesthetic beauty of the book.

Michael Field understood the importance, integrity, and timelessness of the sculpted effigy and applied it to Whym Chow. More than a reminder of Whym Chow’s life, the act of monumentalizing their pet allows not just a reading of the text as a human/animal relationship, but a memorial of all kinds of love: devotion, passion, and unity. Whym Chow, as a unified whole, signifies the variety of loves that Chow exerted in life.

Works Cited

Field, Michael. “Effigies.” Art Review. Edited John Miller Gray 1890. p 90.

Field, Michael. Whym Chow: Flame of Love. Eragny Press. 1914.

Fraser, David. “Lucien Pissarro 1863-1944 Artist Biography.” Tate Research Publication, May 2012 https://web.archive.org/web/20181111180934/https://www.tate.org.uk/art/r.... Accessed 12 April 2021

Kooistra, Lorraine. “General Introduction The Dial: An Occasional Publication (1889- 1897),” Yellow Nineties 2.0. 2019,  p 4-5.

Maxwell, Catherine. “Michael Field, death, and the effigy.” Word & Image, p 31-39, DOI: 10.1080/02666286.2017.1327307]. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.

Vadillo, Ana Parejo. “Sculpture, Poetics, and Marble books,” Michael Field: Decadent Moderns. Ohio University Press, 2019, p 68.

Whiteman, Deborah. "Marcella D. Genz. A History of the Eragny Press, 1894-1914." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, vol. 42, no. 2, 2004, p. 82+. Gale Academic OneFile,link.gale.com/apps/doc/A132189691/AONE?u=avl_auburnum&sid=AONE&xid=94a09.Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.

Winckelmann, John. “The History of Ancient Art Among the Greeks.” Westminster Review. Vol XXXI. Savil Edwards and Co., Printers. 1867, p 99.


[1] See Emma Butler’s “Elegy and External Circumstances” for further discussion of Whym Chow as a tribute to Cooper.