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Austin Osman Spare: the artist's books (1905-1927)

Wallace, William (1993) Austin Osman Spare: the artist's books (1905-1927). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86232) (KAR id:86232)


This thesis constitutes a complete analysis of the following five books: Earth: Inferno (1950), A Book of Satyrs (1907 and 1909), The Book of Pleasure (1913), The Focus of Life (1921), and The Anathema of Zos (1927).

Emphasis is placed throughout upon the interpretation of the drawings within the context of the accompanying text. All allegorical nomenclature has been interpreted and putative identification given to all significant characters and their functions. The basic thesis is that the books constitute an interconnected developmental sequence; that the artist pursues and refines certain major themes and exhaustively explores allegorical method. In addition thta this leads to the evolution of a method of symbolic automatism. This is presented as the praxis of the evolving cosmology, mysticism and world-view developing directly from Earth: Inferno.

The argument is that Earth: Inferno and A Book of Satyrs establish Spare's method of synthesizing influences such as Dante and Blake to evolve effective pictorial and textual tropes. The Book of Pleasure is interpreted as part allegory within the major drawings, and part automatism with symbolic adjuncts in others. All symbolism is interpreted and given putative identification and its function as praxis fully discussed in relation to magical and creative method.

The fourth and fifth books are affirmed as mature articulations of Spare's mysticism and magical theory, textually expressed in more emotive persuasive narrative forms through protagonists originating in name and function in Earth: Inferno. The illustrations of The Focus of Life are identified as thematic developments of major concerns of The Book of Pleasure with evidence of considerable influence of Goethe's Faust.

Earth: Inferno is considered as the initiation of Spare's method of incorporating both revealed and concealed thematic aspects both textually and pictorially, as well as his prevailing syncretistic approach. Diverse components from Dante, Blake, the Kabbalah, Blavatsky and Egypt are identified. It is argued that Dante and Blake are cast in Kabbalist roles through contemporary scholarship; with Blavatsky as a precedent for synthesis and fusion of seemingly diverse concepts.

A Book of Satyrs is construed as complex textual pictorial work functioning on four Dantean levels: Satirical, Biblical / Christian, Kabbalist and Greek Tragic. The Book of Pleasure is present as part allegorical but mainly a didactic work concerned with Spare's symbolic automatism. The Focus of Life is defined as maintaining the Faust theme, whilst the two images of The Anathema of Zos are briefly examined; one in relation to occult influences discussed as influential upon A Book of Satyrs.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86232
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: N Visual Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:36 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2021 11:47 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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