The gaze of the listener : representations of domestic music-making in English literature 1550-1918

Hohl Trillini, Regula. The gaze of the listener : representations of domestic music-making in English literature 1550-1918. 2004, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/diss/DissB_6809

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1. Sex and the Virginals: Gender and Keyboards around 1600
2. “Musick in the House, Musick in the Heart, and Musick also in Heaven”: The Harpsichord
3. “Accomplishments, Accomplishments, Accomplishments”: The Piano-Forté
4. “Glorious disability”: The Piano and the Mid-Victorians
5. Triumph and Oblivion: The Piano after 1880
Works Cited
This study analyzes representations of music in fiction, drama and poetry as well as normative texts in order to contribute to a gendered cultural history of domestic performance. From the Tudors to the First World War, playing the harpsichord or piano was an indispensable asset of any potential bride, and education manuals as well as courtship plots and love poems pay homage to this social function of music. The Gaze of the Listener charts the fundamental tension which determines all these texts: Music is God’s greatest gift and its performance may serve the goal of holy matrimony – but this includes a distracting display of the female body and its attractions. Music is warmly recommended in conduct books and provides standard metaphors for virtuous love such as concord and harmony; but a fundamental anxiety about its inarticulate sensuousness and implicit femininity unsettles all descriptions of actual music-making.
The ambivalence of desire and anxiety is strikingly evident in the way in which textual representations privilege visual perception. English men were discouraged from playing instruments for three centuries; implicitly taught to despise music but conditioned to find its performance erotically attractive, they rarely listen appreciatively but instead train an objectifying ‘gaze of the listener’ on women players. This socially institutionalized scenario is omnipresent but consistently accompanied by narratorial disapproval and repression: imposed on all girls in reality, music in fiction inevitably facilitates adultery or husband-trapping, rates girls on the marriage market or exposes performers to bored or lecherous spectators.
The Gaze of the Listener is the first coherent account of this discourse and its continuity from the Elizabethan to the Edwardian period. It provides a significant background for more narrowly focused accounts which have been typical of the research field. The Gaze of the Listener is distinguished not only by its historical range and innovative focus but also by a uniquely wide database, which contextualizes numerous ‘minor’ works with classics without limiting itself to the fringe phenomenon of “musician novels”. Including a fresh account of Jane Austen’s texts (which have often been musically lumped with the Victorians), the book is of interest to scholars and students in Gender, English and Cultural Studies as well as to musicologists.
Advisors:Engler, Balz and Shreffler, Anne C.
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften > Fachbereich Englische Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft
UniBasel Contributors:Hohl Trillini, Regula and Engler, Balz
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:6809
Thesis status:Complete
Place of Publication:Basel
Number of Pages:295
Identification Number:
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:20 Sep 2019 09:27
Deposited On:05 Jun 2019 06:02

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