Many scholars have considered Aubrey Beardsley's art indispensable to understanding fin-de-siecle Victorian culture. Beardsley depicted various grotesque shapes, caricatures, and mutated figures, including fetus/old man, dwarf, Clown, Harlequin, Pierrot, and dandy - the icon of the Decadent "Religion of Art". These images embodied the fearful contradictions of decadence and served as objective correlatives of some "monstrous" metaphysical contortion. Beardsley's grotesques suggest the impossibility of resolving these contradictions, even as his elegant designs try to offer a formal aesthetic resolution.
In this book, Snodgrass analyzes a wide range of Beardsley's most characteristic work, and establishes Beardsley's assumptions about the underlying nature of his world. Snodgrass argues that Beardsley's pictures present a dialogue between seemingly polarized impulses: a desire to scandalize and destabilize the old order, and, equally strong, a need to affirm traditional authority. Further, Beardsley's "dandy" sensibility and grotesque caricatures become his means of realigning canonical meaning. Thus, he effects what might be termed a "caricature" of traditional signification. An aesthete devoted to the "Religion of Art," Beardsley, nonetheless, creates a world inescapably "de-formed." He is a Dandy of the Grotesque.