Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations/The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction

By Dopp, Bonnie Jo | Notes, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations/The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction


Dopp, Bonnie Jo, Notes


Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations. By Ruth A. Solie. (California Studies in 19th-century Music.) Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. [223 p. ISBN 0-520-23845-1. $39.95.] Illustrations, index.

The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction. Edited by Sophie Fuller and Nicky Losseff. (Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain.) Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. [xx, 297 p. ISBN 0-7546-0577-9. $109.95.] Index, bibliography.

Both these books are volumes in nineteenth-century music series but only Solie's earned ML780 classification status at the C-I-P stage of production, Fuller/ Losseff being properly assessed as literary criticism (PR823). Solie's prize-winning book (a finalist for the 2005 American Musicological Society Kinkeldey Award) collects and refreshes four essays published earlier and adds two that are new. Fuller and Losseff bring together essays by eleven academic specialists in literature and musicology, some of which rework conference papers. Both books are fully indexed and carry welcome footnotes as both documentation and commentary. Fuller/Losseff collects bibliographic information from those citations into a "bibliography of the whole," helpfully divided into categories of primary and secondary literature.

Both books begin with essays that serve as overviews, Solie's eloquently stating her interest in investigating what Leo Treitler called the "cardinal importance of 'what goes without saying' " (p. 1) in a given culture's texts-all that is taken for granted or assumed to be obvious. Solie explains that she took a casual comment by Leonard Meyer regarding "cultural scuttlebutt" as a definition of texts to pursue to help her make explicit "the degree to which the Victorian world was saturated with music" (p. 1). Edward Burne-Jones's painting The Golden Stairs is given in color reproduction on the dust jacket and in graytone as frontispiece to her book and Solie says she found it helpful "to look away from the professional discourse of musicians" and "use sources as disparate and unlikely as journalism, novels, and teenagers' diaries" to unearth the "conversations" that reveal music's place in nineteenth-century European and North American culture (p. 2).

Fuller and Losseff's introduction comments on all the essays in their book. Their purpose is interdisciplinary (musicology and literary criticism) but limited to exploring British works of fiction, sufficient sources for myriad themes: reception, practice, societal issues, aesthetic assumptions and the urgent late-nineteenth-century matter of personal and national identity.

Unifying care was taken in both books to refer to chapters ahead and behind, as appropriate. Neither book has a sewn binding. The UC Press product is printed on minimally permanent paper with a gluedon headband, and inner margins wide enough for eventual rebinding, while the bare-bones Ashgate book, which opens easily enough, makes no claim to permanence but could also withstand one rebinding.

Fuller and Losseff, only slightly longer but nearly three times as expensive as Solie's book, and more limited in scope, is also generally cast in far more formidable academic language. Nicky Losseff, both a Lecturer in Music at the University of York and a pianist specializing in contemporary music, offers chapter one: "The Voice, the Breath and the Soul: Song and Poverty in Thyrta, Mary Barton, Alton Locke and A Child of the Jago." Its twice-footnoted first sentence challenges readers to know what "sage writers" are, to tolerate "notion" yet again, and later to withstand "problematized" (p. 3). The novels Losseff examines originally had a "working class" audience and their singing characters were set in economically poor environments where the air was foul. They dreamt of "freedom of breath" such as came on a rare fresh-air day, the kind that "London sees but once in half a dozen winters" as one author put it (p. 15). Spirituality and religion (pointedly not the same thing) and sacrifice are also treated in these novels and Losseff digs deeply into authors' research, their personal experience with poverty, and the social, spiritual, and individual meanings they projected on singing in their works. …

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