Reading Periodical Texture
Volume 4, Cycle 2
“Affect, feelings, and emotive responses cannot be shaped into a methodology,” writes Fionnuala Dillane in her thoughtful exploration of this essential dimension of periodical meaning. Acknowledging the frustrations of those “who prefer graphs, reproducible, predictable, transferable methods, and definite structures,” Dillane argues persuasively that we need instead to embrace “the operations of affect, its openness, its aleatoric potential, and its emotion-based effects, in particular when considering the open-ended, multi-textured, serial form that is the periodical” (“Forms of Affect,” 10). My purpose in this examination of The Western Home Monthly (WHM) is to take up this challenge, exploring in the process a complementary analytical concept, what I have come to term the “texture” of the magazine. Further elaborating this term and exploring its analytical potential is a key aim of this contribution, but for the time being let me offer an outline definition:
Periodical texture is constituted by the distinctive serial and composite patternings of any given periodical or type of periodical. Textures exist in the internal or external codes of the periodical and may be read through close or distant analysis. The significance of periodical texture lies in its capacity to generate strong affective responses.
As has been widely acknowledged, the distinctive properties of the periodical are predicated on the play of sameness and difference both inside the composite form of each number and across the serial dimension of successive numbers. Whether we choose to call it heteroglossia, polyphony, or openness, the centrifugal forces of variation and innovation operate in conjunction with the centripetal forces of recurrence, familiarity, and repetition. Taken together, these forces shape the distinctive patterns or textures of any periodical, and it is this property of the WHM that will be my object of enquiry in this piece. In the case of the WHM and its digitized corpus, two aspects stand out as particularly apt for textural analysis: first, the diachronic dimension across more than thirty years of publication that foregrounds questions of continuity and change; and second, the fine and intricate internal textures of its four-column page structure that seem at first glance to privilege the open and polyphonic dimension of periodical form. Taken together, these two aspects generate an immense amount data that poses, in turn, considerable methodological challenges. In what follows, I explore those challenges in a self-conscious and reflexive manner, seeking to bridge the gap that Dillane identifies between the largely subjective “accreting layer” of affect and the more transferable, quantitative methods that permit comparative analysis (“Forms of Affect,” 10).
The notion of texture that I propose here is self-consciously plural in the influences and resonances on which it draws, a peculiarly suggestive concept which we find in use in a variety of contexts, many of them scholarly and theoretical. First, and most basically, the concept refers to a physical and material property, as in the everyday meaning of texture as a tactile sensation: “the feel [or] consistency of a surface or substance,” as the Oxford online dictionary puts it, suggesting the “firm texture” of cheese or the “rough texture” of stubble as examples. Second, and drawing on literary-theoretical precedents, it is a formal and differential concept, invoked most programmatically by John Crowe Ransom to capture the “local texture” of a poem, “the differentia, residue, or tissue, which keeps the object poetical or entire.” In this sense, texture also refers to the “fabric” of the text, famously privileged by Barthes, that exists “only in its difference . . . entirely woven of quotations, references, echoes.” Third, periodical texture is multi-vocal and multi-layered, as in the musicological concept that describes the relationship between different lines and parts in a composition through its established terminological repertoire: the “homophony” of multiple parts that align with one another rhythmically or the “polyphony” of parts that operate more independently from one another; the textural “range” that defines the space between parts; the “thickness” that describes the number of different parts in the composition; and the “heaviness” or “lightness” of the multiple sounds arranged in the performance. Fourth, we can move out of the humanities altogether and draw on texture as a research problem across a range of science subjects. Whether in the visual texture of images in computer vision or the physical texture of surfaces in engineering, a full description of this multi-dimensional property is a complex problem that has escaped many traditional methodologies, “an elusive notion which mathematicians and scientists tend to avoid because they cannot grasp it,” as Benoit Mandelbrot suggests. Infinitely complex but also recursive and self-similar, texture emerges as key element in Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry. Finally, the notion of texture as I apply it here shares a cognitive and experiential dimension with the recent development of the term in cognitive poetics. As Peter Stockwell puts it, “texture is the experienced quality of textuality,” an essential element in our interaction with poetic language that shapes our responses to it. Across all these disciplines, texture emerges as a rich and paradoxical concept, physically tangible but metaphorically elusive, intuitively important but resisting straightforward analysis, an abstraction that provokes immediate sensory responses. It is in the full breadth of these resonances that I invoke the term, even if, as we shall see, some specific precedents are mobilized more explicitly than others.
But how do we analyze periodical texture? Where do we look to identify the textures of The Western Home Monthly? Let us start with a simple, distant mode of analysis that gives us an overview of the key patterns in its two essential temporalities, its periodicity and longevity. Central here in methodological terms is a calendar grid that sets out years of publication on the vertical axis and internal divisions within those years horizontally (in this case, months though days or weeks may be more appropriate in other cases). Each cell in that grid represents a potential instance of publication and one that can be filled with any particular variable property of the periodical in order to show patterns of variation and repetition. In this case I have chosen to enter the page count of each individual number of the magazine, in part as one of the core material properties of any magazine experienced by its readers, but also as an indicator of its vitality and success. Entering page counts into the calendar grid and applying a conditional formatting rule in Excel allows us to create a simple visualization, a heat map, that offers the first representation of the magazine’s texture across the years 1904 to 1931 (fig. 1). Here, cells tending towards green indicate page count values above the mean of sixty-four pages per number across the magazine’s publication run, up to the highest value; cells tending towards red indicate values below the mean, down to the minimum value in the series. As well as each monthly value across those twenty-eight years in the calendar grid, the visualization includes two further indicators of variation: a sum column to the right indicates page count values for each year, to give a summary of diachronic development by year; and a further row underneath the main grid gives mean values for each month of publication across those years, from January through to December, in order to show patterns of internal variation within the year.
Three key trends emerge in this texture visualization. The first and most obvious point to make is that the magazine maintains the regularity of its monthly publication frequency throughout the period, a measure of its institutional strength that cannot always be taken for granted. As we know, irregularities in publication frequency are a common feature of many magazines, especially during their early founding phase or during their twilight years before closure, a sign of organizational and financial instability that is often connected to the personalized nature of their institutional arrangements. Second and more interestingly, the texture map shows distinct phases in the development of the magazine, as page count rises to form two very clear periods of peak success: 1910 to 1913 and 1925 to 1930. By the same token, the years up until 1908 emerge starkly as an initial founding phase, while the years 1914 to 1924 constitute a longer period of relative decline between the two peak phases. Third, the visualization demonstrates strikingly the fluctuating length of the magazine from number to number as page counts vary across successive months. Some particular patterns appear within those fluctuations: numbers at the end of the year and especially the final Christmas number tended to be longer and the January number and summer numbers tended to be much shorter. But in general terms, it is this unevenness in page count that becomes the defining feature of the magazine. A single year is often characterized by eight or nine different page counts, and the largest individual number in any given year often extends to more than twice the length of the shortest.
But what does it mean to consider these variations as “texture”? Perhaps the first point to make is that it is only in comparison with other examples that the distinctiveness of the publication texture becomes clear. To take an example with which I am much more familiar, the German cultural journal Die neue Rundschau was also a monthly publication that appeared across the same years. And like WHM it has a “thick” external texture, that is, each number has a relatively large page count, albeit even more so, extending consistently to more than one hundred pages per issue. And like WHM it also went through periods of growth and retrenchment that are shown very starkly in fluctuating annual page counts. But, as the texture map below shows (fig. 2), there was much greater evenness to the patternings of the German journal.
Rather than the infinitely irregular, variegated textures of WHM, Die neue Rundschau is characterized by consistent blocks of uniformity, as successive numbers replicate an established page count. Indeed, the almost completely even page count by month across these twenty-eight years (values range between 130 and 133) shows very clearly that internal variation within the year was simply not a feature of this monthly magazine. And it is here that the abstract metaphor of texture intersects with its material and experiential dimensions. For the regular reader of Die neue Rundschau the recurrent experience of picking up and holding a number each month with a standard physical thickness and a recurrent number of pages would have been a key element of their expectations and associations with the journal, a trigger for affective responses of familiarity. And by the same token, the expectation that the magazine’s identity was not defined by a specific size of individual issue would certainly have become familiar to regular readers and subscribers of WHM, as would the recognizable and recurrent patterns of variation within the annual cycle of the magazine, for example between the longer December and shorter January numbers. Understood as texture, these are not just quantitative descriptions of objective properties but experienced elements, like the physical sensation of a rough or smooth material, the kind of “relational encounters” that Dillane describes for periodical readers.
What is also clear from this analysis is that these variations in even a single specific variable across more than three hundred monthly issues are exceptionally difficult to describe in any conventional qualitative or quantitative manner. I am thinking here, for example, of the comprehensive bibliographic reference works produced by the German Literary Archive in Marbach, the repertoria of German literary magazines that list key properties for each journal but that cannot begin to capture the inherent variation and complexity in those properties over time. By contrast, the visualized calendar grid and texture map capture that full degree of temporal variation and its internal patternings, giving the scholar access to a degree of complexity not otherwise easily described or perceived. Clearly, in this distant reading method, other variables, both qualitative and quantitative, can also be entered as data into the calendar grid, and coloring conventions used to create texture maps of variation and recurrence across the many dimensions or “codes” of the periodical: fluctuations in price or in format, for example, or changes in the social make-up of the magazine, its editors or publishers. In this sense, texture analysis is inherently tied to forms of data visualization.
We might also extend this principle to show variations and recurrence, for example, in cover design and illustration, a crucial “contact zone” between reader and magazine where experiential and sensory responses to texture are again immediate and vital. In this case we can tile a chronological series of covers in order to create another kind of texture map, as in figures 3 and 4 below. Unfortunately, the digitized archive of WHM does not retain original covers for all numbers, but we have enough to reconstruct almost complete patterns over some significant phases in the magazine’s history, specifically the two peak periods of 1908 to 1912 and 1928 to 1932. Here, again it is patterns of variation and recurrence that are of interest, in particular the commonalities within each of the periods and the contrasts between them: the former establishing a recognizable visual identity for the publication, the latter suggesting a development over time in the positioning of the magazine. Such an analysis could easily occupy an article in its own right, but clearly that development needs to be approached in both formal and thematic terms: this development is perceptible in layout, style, and production techniques, but also in the choice of subject matter and its composition. The marked modernization across the formal dimension is apparent enough, most obviously in the typeface and design of the masthead and in the consistent use of full color by the late 1920s. But there is also a striking shift in content. In the first period there is a discernible connection between the cover image and the Western Canadian environment—the landscape, climate, or agriculture—most readily apparent in the seasonal specificities of the monthly numbers. There is also a range of subjects: male and female more or less evenly represented, more frequently children, but also sometimes wildlife or landscapes. In the second period, by contrast, cover subjects are overwhelmingly female. Indeed after 1928, which begins to look like a transitional year sharing much of the variety of the earlier period, covers are dominated by images of stylish and fashionable women, much less closely connected to the geographical and chronological specifics of life in the Canadian West.
What it means to be “a family journal that devoted to all that appeals to the Home” has clearly changed, the inward-facing naivety of the early pioneer years giving way to growing self-confidence and an increasingly outward-looking perspective. Indeed, in the annual travel number that becomes established in January 1929, the boundaries of the magazine’s visual imaginary are opened up to a much more exotic world of cruise ships, aqueducts, and bazaars. Read through its cover design, the diachronic development of the magazine is readily apparent: this is not a destabilization caused by sudden affective ruptures, but rather a gradual and incremental change within repetitive patterns, a cumulative change that eventually delivers a striking end difference.
Consideration of cover design also brings us much closer to the published object itself and to a close analysis of the textures that are generated by internal composition, layout, and design. Here there are two sets of parameters: on the one hand linear and spatial, that is from page to page and item to item within the number; and on the other, abstract and conceptual, in the internal hierarchical divisions of the publication. Characteristic of WHM in both respects is its fine and irregular close texture, and here again comparison with Die neue Rundschau is instructive. In the internal visualization below (fig. 5), the twelve monthly issues of the latter journal have been mapped in a single year to show the number of items in each monthly publication and the page count for each individual item.
Shown here for 1930, the internal texture of Die neue Rundschau appears remarkably consistent and demonstrates a much thicker and more even set of patternings than WHM: around eight contributions would tend to make up the main part of the number each month, each usually ten to twenty pages in length but extending to as many as fifty pages for longer essays or prose extracts that in turn occupied a regular position in the number as the second or third published item; a second, bi-column review section at the rear of each number, shown starkly here in the red cells, would include a further five or six pieces, each around one page in length. Discretely bi-textural across its two sections, the journal was nonetheless even in texture within each section, with no typographical variation and no illustrations or advertisements.
By contrast, WHM was characterized from the outset by a four-column, large-format layout and by a relatively high concentration of illustrations, photographs, and ads. A reference point here is the November 1903 number, in which the magazine announced a new enlarged format and a series of improvements intended to set the model for the magazine’s future development. The result was a much finer and more intricate texture than Die neue Rundschau, so that a simple item and page count undertaken in the manner above rapidly becomes an impossibly unwieldy task: as well as the sheer number of items involved, their small size cannot be easily captured by any measure of page count.
To take as an example these two facing pages from the November 1903 number (14–15, fig. 6), we can count at least twenty individual items on these two pages alone: fourteen individual items of a variety of lengths under the department rubric “The Home,” some with headings of their own, some without, but each with separators to indicate their semi-autonomous status. In addition, two illustrative photographs cut across the four-column structure of each page, the first one in particular interrupting column boundaries to force text into two half-columns. A further, only loosely related, illustration is accompanied by three ads, the smallest only four standard lines of a single column, the largest spread across three columns and around half the page depth. Each ad also introduces further typographical variation into the page, so that the dominant sense is of a diverse and apparently polyphonic texture. Maintained across the magazine as a whole, the item count itself would rapidly run into many hundreds.
Here, an alternative methodology is needed to capture this fine and irregular texture, and one possible solution is provided by a bespoke periodical mapping application that allows the researcher to segment the page, assigning metadata to each item that can then be coded to display color variation according to one of those data variables. Overlaid onto the same two pages from November 1903 and color-coded to differentiate between main text, photograph, illustration, advertisement, and functional editorial text, the output from the mapping application generates a rich visualization of fine magazine texture, with its multiplicity of items and genres (fig. 7).
As well as segmenting the page, the tool also provides an alternative and more appropriate measure of item size: the mapping application automatically measures the surface area of each bounded item and collates items by genre to give a measure of the proportion of the page attributed to each variable. In the case above, for example, main body text represents only 40% of the page text, evenly balanced by the combination of photography and advertised, each of which makes up around 20% of the page space.
In fact, advertising emerges as one of the most distinctive elements in the periodical texture of WHM, especially during its growth from twenty-four pages per number in its early years to forty-eight, sixty-four and then a peak of 128 pages in December 1910. In fact, in these years advertising often accounts for nearly a half of the space in a single number. So, for example, if we use the periodical mapping application to isolate advertising in the January 1909 number (fig. 8), we see that it constituted 45.42% of the total surface area of the magazine in that number. Indeed, if we tile the output from the tool so that the forty-eight pages of that number are arranged consecutively into a 4 x 12 collage, we can also see the patternings of advertising across the number, including its sheer density, particularly just after the halfway point of the number.
Advertising thus clearly represents a central compositional element in the distinctive fine texture of WHM. Indeed, as its editorials make clear, advertising growth was part of the aggressive and explicit commercial agenda of the magazine, not a symptom or by-product of success but a motor for that success. Indeed, in many cases the conceptual boundary between advertising and content is at best blurred, as advice about dressmaking sits alongside advertising for patterns and fabrics, or when advertising is promoting products endorsed or even supplied by the magazine itself. In this way, the recurrent compositional patternings of advertising, together with its close overlaps with editorial content, argue strongly for a softening, if not an outright erasure, of the boundary between “content” and advertising.
But what detailed segmentation also reveals is that advertising begins to occupy a relatively small number of typical and constrained patterns on the page. In the three consecutive two-page spreads shown below, for example (January 1906, 36–41, fig. 9), columns one and two and seven and eight of the double-page form clearly delineated advertising zones, either side of regular columns and sections.
Indeed, as these further two-page spreads from the same number demonstrate (fig. 10), other regular patternings of this type are also discernible, advertising balanced consistently in a 50:50 ratio with main editorial content.
Sometimes it is the two outer columns of each single page that are occupied by advertising (columns 1, 4, 5, 8 of the spread); on other occasions the first column of the verso page and the outer three columns of the recto page (columns 1, 6, 7, 8). Elsewhere, full-page editorial content alternates with full-page advertising, but the overall ratios and patterns exhibit surprising stability. Significantly, these same texture patterns remain, even twenty years later in 1929.
Here (fig. 11), the overall ratio of advertising has fallen somewhat to less than a third of the page area (32.53%) and it is more restricted to the second half of the number, but many of the by-now familiar half-page patternings recur, so that advertising exerts a centripetal force on the identity and coherence of the publication. Rather than acting as an open, centrifugal element into the composition of the magazine, advertising seems to serve a stabilizing function, exerting a centripetal force on the identity and coherence of the publication equally as strong as that of conventional “content.”
More generally, there is a clear evolution in the internal texture of WHM from 1909 to 1929, at least in my sampling. Following full-page advertising in the inside covers, the first sixteen pages of the January 1929 number are given over to eight feature-length pieces, mostly short fiction, each illustrated and each uninterrupted by any advertising or other elements. A similar compositional strategy is adopted in the special travel section, as six further substantial pieces are given full-page status, usually across a three-column layout. In other words, the magazine displays a much more even and coarser internal texture than it did in its earlier years. In both of these sections, the pure “content” gradually gives way to additional elements, in particular to advertising as the main articles are interrupted and continuations signalled later in the number. But this advertising continues to respect clearly delineated half-page zones in a layout that is cleaner and neater, with greater use of white space and more clearly defined boundaries than in earlier years. Some regular departments also recur—for example, “The Philosopher” or “What the World is Saying,” which have run since the earliest years of the magazine— but the very fine and irregular textures of the early years have by and large been replaced with a thicker feel, a smaller number of longer pieces interwoven through the fabric of the number as serial elements with the kind of continuations visible in figure 12 below.
The sense is very much of a more mature and stable publication, smoother and more even, more balanced and more coherent in its feel. Here the vocabulary of musical texture is particularly suggestive: a thicker texture but one in which the various voices and elements are homophonic, complementing one another rather than jarring in a more polyphonic or contrapuntal arrangement.
What I have offered here is a deliberately exploratory intervention rather than a fully formed analysis, an attempt to work through the analytical potential of the notion of periodical texture, tackling a specific object of enquiry, in the form of The Western Home Monthly, that was previously quite unknown to me. The intense retrospective reading I have undertaken of a digitized archive, with a particular academic purpose, is a different kind of reading, of course, from that of contemporary subscribers, let alone the occasional casual reader of the magazine. But it is striking just how quickly and how easily the patterns of the magazine become imprinted on the subject as meaningful and familiar, its four-column layout, its recurring departments and themes, and above all their internal arrangement in the magazine from month to month. The previously unknown publication becomes known in its seriality much more readily in an intuitive sense, experientially, than it does analytically or quantitatively. And that “feel” for the magazine is often not easy to verbalize. Indeed, sometimes it escapes categorization altogether.
My self-conscious use of the term “texture” is a response to that lack, supplying a particular analytical vocabulary that is drawn from the diverse influences and resonances I have already set out: a sense of metaphorical touch and feel; notions of fineness and thickness, evenness and unevenness, smoothness and roughness, regularity and irregularity; homophony and polyphony. And crucially it also privileges particular forms of visualization that allow the full patterns of repetition and variation to be perceived, to be experienced in their full complexity and irregularity, less mediated than in conventional academic discourse. To return to Stockwell’s cognitive-poetic notion of texture as the “experienced quality of textuality,” there is clearly something very attractive to the periodical scholar in giving appropriate recognition to this cognitive dimension of the print form, not to mention a very clear resonance of Dillane’s notion of periodical affect. But for all the subjective messiness and unpredictability of readers’ emotive encounters with the page, texture remains a property of the periodical itself, I would argue, susceptible to analysis and reconstruction through some of quantitative and digital approaches I have adopted in this piece.
As for the specific case of WHM, it is the diachronic development of the magazine from the turn of the century into the 1930s that lends itself particularly well to textural analysis. As Hannah McGregor and Nicholas van Orden have argued convincingly, there is certainly a shift in layout identifiable around 1919, a textural change we might say, after which longer articles are split across the number in patterns of interruption and continuation. But my own reading of texture diverges from their interpretation of this as a “distinctly modernist outcome of fragmented narratives and collage-like spreads.” Rather than emphasize disruptions and discontinuities, my own reading privileges maturation and stabilization. And as the theoretical language of musicology reminds us, complex and thick textures need not necessarily be polyphonic. The strength of the magazine’s established identity, its recurring departments, and the move towards thicker, more even textures suggest instead a more homophonic arrangement, a reminder of the importance of the closed and centripetal dynamics of the periodical and the responses of familiarity and reassurance that they generate.
 Fionnuala Dillane, “Forms of Affect, Relationality, and Periodical Encounters: Or Pine-Apple for the Million,” Journal of European Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (2016): 6–24, 10.
 See, for example, Margaret Beetham, “Towards a Theory of the Periodical as a Publishing Genre,” in Investigating Victorian Journalism, ed. Laurel Brake, Aled Jones, and Lionel Madden (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1990), 19–32; and James Mussell, “Cohering Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century: Form, Genre and Periodical Studies,” Victorian Periodicals Review 42, no. 1 (2009): 93–103.
 John Crowe Ransom, “Criticism as Pure Speculation,” in Literary Opinion in America, ed. Morton Dauwen Zabel (New York: Harper, 1962), 639–54, 648; John Crowe Ransom, The World’s Body (New York: Scribner’s, 1938), 349.
 Roland Barthes, “Theory of the Text,” in Untying the Text: Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge, 1981), 31–47, 39; Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text,” in The Rustle of Language (New York: Hill and Wang, 1986), 56–64, 60.
 Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (New York: Freeman, 1983), 310.
 Peter Stockwell, Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 1.
 Clearly we might wish to explore the reasons behind the misalignment of phases of success and decline, in particular as they relate to socio-historical factors (World War I and economic depression).
 See, for example, the five-volume Deutsche Literarische Zeitschriften 1880–1945, ed. Thomas Dietzel and Hans-Otto Hügel (Munich: Saur, 1988).
 The Periodical Mapping Application (PMApp) uses open-source software and has been developed through a number of projects at the University of Manchester, notably by Jon Armstrong and Ciprian Tomoiaga.
 Hannah McGregor and Nicholas van Orden, “Remediation and the Development of Modernist Forms in The Western Home Monthly,” in Reading Modernism with Machines: Digital Humanities and Modernist Literature, ed. Shawna Ross and James O’Sullivan (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 135–64, 151.