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Reviews Paula Gillett. Musical Women in England, 1870-1914: 'Encroaching on All Man's Privileges. "New York: St. Mary's Press, 2000. 310 + ix. $49.95 U.S. In the last fifteen to twenty years feminist musicologists, historians, and social critics have written and edited numerous books on the topic of women and music. Within this burgeoning field, the important rewriting of history to include women's contributions as musicians and composers has been particularly important. Texts such as Karen Pendle's Women andMusic: a History (1991), Marcia Cirton's GenderandtheMusicalCanon (1993; both reprinted in 2001), as well as Sophie Fuller's The Pandora Guide to Women Composers: Britain and the UnitedStates, 1629-Present (1994) and The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers (1994) are only a small sampling of the crucial archival and canonical work that has taken place. Paula Gillett's book contributes to this category of feminist music history, focusing on what it meant to be a late-Victorian musical woman. The major sources for this account include not only music journals and girls' and women's magazines, but also literary works, both fictional and poetic. Beginning by summarising the factors that shaped the intersection of "music and the female sphere" (1) in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, Gillett argues persuasively that "whether the subject under discussion was the choice of an instrument or a musical vocation, the capacity to respond to music or performance style, all such questions were heavily laden with gendered rules or connotations" (3). Of particular concern to the late-nineteenth-century imagination regarding women and music was a woman's choice of instrument, a problem the author examines in 96volume 28 number 2 Reviews detail. The instrument played was determined by its apparent effect on a woman's body. The piano, Gillett explains, "was the perfect fit for the Victorian girl and woman. The seated position accorded well with female modesty, no awkward motions or altered facial distortions were required [unlike wind instruments], and there were no suggestive movements to disturb the modest female image" (4). Intertwined with the concern of an instrument's capacity to "undo" a woman's modesty was the prejudice against female public performance, also an issue Gillett addresses throughout her study. Assiduously, Gillett discloses how the sacrifice of respectability by the paid performing artist was far greater for a woman than for a man. A woman on stage was, according to middle-class Victorian notions of female social standards, making herself an object for the male gaze, an act that carried with it connotations of prostitution (especially if she were paid for her performance). Detailing the effect of such censure on the middle-class woman musician, Gillett also observes that the stakes were much different for working-class women. As well, she explores the changes in social taboos produced by then-contemporary transformations in the social and political conditions of the "New Woman." One of Gillett's most significant contributions to the field of feminist music history is her explication, in the second chapter, of what she argues is an overlooked area of gendered activity: music philanthropy. Teasing out both the class biases embedded in and reproduced by philanthropic principles and practices, and the opportunities (albeit economically very limited) for women musicians to perform publicly, Gillett explains that "the close association of music with philanthropic activity, led women far beyond the private realm in ways that simultaneously weakened the ideology of separate spheres and the barriers to female participation in the professional music world" (33). Gillett's excellent and extensive archival research is supplemented by the beginnings of an engaging analysis of Victorian ideals of selfless womanhood and their manifestation in musical practice. More could have been made, however, of this particular junction between what she calls "Woman's Mission" and the Victorian Review97 Reviews examples of female philanthropists and institutions in which they were involved. Some correlations between the practices of musical philanthropy and conceptions of "ideal" Victorian womanhood do occur in chapter three, in which Gillett details the lives of several "impoverished girls of exceptional talent" (64) who were given assistance. At the chapter's close, Gillett comments on a fictional text that portrays...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 96-99
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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