Music lessons and the construction of womanhood in English fiction, 1870-1914
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This thesis explores the gendered symbolism of women’s music lessons in English fiction, 1870-1914. I consider canonical and non-canonical fiction in the context of a wider discourse about music, gender and society. Traditionally, women’s music lessons were a marker of upper- and middle-class respectability. Musical ‘accomplishment’ was a means to differentiate women in the ‘marriage market’, and the music lesson itself was seen to encode a dynamic of obedient submission to male authority as a ‘rehearsal’ for married life. However, as the market for musical goods and services burgeoned, musical training also offered women the potential of an independent career. Close reading George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) and Jessie Fothergill’s The First Violin (1877), I discuss four young women who negotiate their marital and vocational choices through their interactions with powerful music teachers. Through the lens of the music lessons in Emma Marshall’s Alma (1888) and Israel Zangwill’s Merely Mary Ann (1893), I consider the issues of class, respectability and social emulation, paying particular attention to the relationship between aesthetic taste and moral values. I continue by considering George Du Maurier’s Trilby (1894) alongside Elizabeth Godfrey’s Cornish Diamonds (1895), texts in which female pupils exhibit genuine power, eventually eclipsing both their music teachers and the artist-suitors for whom they once modelled. My final chapter discusses three texts which problematize the power of women’s musical performance through depicting female music pupils as ‘New Women’ in conflict with the people around them: Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book (1895), D. H. Lawrence’s The Trespasser (1912) and Compton Mackenzie’s Sinister Street (1913). I conclude by looking forward to representations of women’s music lessons in the modernist period and beyond, with a reading of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Wind Blows’ (1920) as well as Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows (1956).
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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Embargo Date: 2024-05-27
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 27th May 2024
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