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Songbirds on the Literary Stage

The Woman Singer and her Song in French and German Prose Fiction, from Goethe to Berlioz


Julia Effertz

This interdisciplinary study, situated at the cross-section of music, literature and gender, examines the woman singer and her song as a literary motif in French and German prose fiction from the 1790s to the mid-nineteenth century. Through selected case studies, this diachronic history of motifs offers a fresh perspective on canonical singer archetypes, such as Goethe’s child singer Mignon and Madame de Staël’s ground-breaking artist Corinne. The volume also examines lesser known narratives by authors including Caroline Auguste Fischer, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Hector Berlioz and Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, some of which have not been considered critically in this regard before. This allows for a re-evaluation of the significance of the singer motif in musical narratives from the Romantic era to the July Monarchy. The sometimes polemic, often ambivalent, yet always nuanced and multi-layered reflection on the woman singer in literature bears testimony to the complexity of the nineteenth-century musical-literary discourse and its fluid negotiation of gender relations and female performance, fitting well with that ineffable, enigmatic essence of the woman singer herself who, as a literary motif and a cultural icon, continues to resonate and fascinate well beyond the nineteenth century.
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