Transgressive Tunes and the Gendered Music of Victorian Poetry

Swafford, Joanna, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Tucker, Herbert, Department of English, University of Virginia
Stauffer, Andrew, Department of English, University of Virginia
Holsinger, Bruce, Department of English, University of Virginia

The gendering of music in Victorian poetry often remains inaudible in contemporary criticism because of the radical differences between modern and Victorian understandings of music. “Transgressive Tunes and the Gendered Music of Victorian Poetry” makes the gendered intermediations of music and poetry newly resonant. It argues that poets from Felicia Hemans to Thomas Hardy wrote poems about music that critiqued the larger literary, legal, and social restrictions women faced. The project traces an arc of increasing musical agency for women: from poems on instruments forbidden to women (violin and flute), to poems on acceptable instruments (piano and voice), to poems that present themselves for women to sing, to song settings of Victorian poems that women actually sang in the parlor. By juxtaposing poems about the gendering of music with evidence from a rich cultural archive including periodicals, musical treatises, concert reviews, and satirical illustrations, “Transgressive Tunes” makes audible the lost music of Victorian poetry and its connections with women’s voices. The final chapter, analyzing musical settings of Victorian poems, uses a digital framework that lets scholars who cannot read music follow its arguments. This project, in attending to the gendered music of Victorian poetry, exposes the sociopolitical implications of these musical poems, their subversive critiques, and the power and voice they gave to Victorian women poets.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
literature, poetry, lyric, Victorian, 19th century, music, digital humanities, gender
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