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Title: Convention, individuality, and feminine musicianship : the piano girl in nineteenth century American literature
Author: Atchison, Erin Jane
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2008
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The nineteenth-century piano was not just a means of making music, but a cultural myth. In literature it is a complex conduit for ideas about femininity, social expectations, and status. Nevertheless, the literary significance of the “piano girl” – the woman who played the piano as an accomplishment – has been largely ignored by the critics, particularly in the field of American literature, where piano-playing characters superficially conform to conventional expectations about domestic music in greater numbers than their European counterparts. Not all texts, however, are so happy to accept a prescribed model of feminine musicianship, and in this thesis I analyse several key texts by James Fenimore Cooper, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Stoddard, Henry James, and Kate Chopin, and show how their representations of the piano girl challenge the often contradictory rhetoric of their day. Through the socio-cultural and historic understanding of the piano and musicianship in the United States, the piano girls in these texts reveal a complex pattern of ambivalence towards the role of domestic music in the performance of womanhood, and its relationship to the contingent realities of nineteenth century American society. In Chapter One, I introduce the narrative significance and literary antecedents of music in four of Cooper’s novels, and in Chapter Two, I discuss Fuller’s concerns about the piano as a feminine object in Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, with reference to her music criticism and other contemporary fiction. Chapter Three analyses Stoddard’s representation of the piano girl in The Morgesons; the chapter combines Romanticism and musical subjectivity with domesticity and consumer theory. In Chapter Four, I locate the exceptional musicianship of Madame Merle within the wider context of feminine music in James’ The Portrait of a Lady. Through a consideration of the discursive meaning of repertoire in Chopin’s The Awakening, Chapter Five explores the complex relationship between musical performance, selfhood and gender expectation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available