Music was at once one of the most idealized and one of the most contested art forms of the Victorian period. Yet this vitally important nineteenth-century cultural form has been studied by literary critics mainly as a system of thematic motifs. Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs positions music as a charged site of cultural struggle, promoted concurrently as a transcendent corrective to social ills and as a subversive cause of those ills. Alisa Clapp-Itnyre examines Victorian constructions of music to advance patriotism, Christianity, culture, and domestic harmony, and suggests that often these goals were undermined by political tensions in song texts or “immoral sensuality” in the “spectacle” of live music-making.
Professor Clapp-Itnyre turns her focus to the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy, who present complex engagements with those musical genres most privileged by Victorian society: folk songs, religious hymns, and concert music.
Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs recovers the pervasive ambiguities of the Victorian musical period, ambiguities typically overlooked by both literary scholars and musicologists. To the literary critic and cultural historian, Professor Clapp-Itnyre demonstrates the necessity of further exploring the complete aesthetic climate behind some of the Victorian period’s most powerful literary works. And to the feminist scholar and the musicologist, Clapp-Itnyre reveals the complexities of music as both an oppressive cultural force and an expressive, creative outlet for women.