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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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Series index

European Connections


edited by Peter Collier

‘European Connections’ is a series which aims to publish studies in Comparative Literature. Most scholars would agree that no literary work or genre can fruitfully be studied in isolation from its context (whether formal or cultural). Nearly all literary works and genres arise in response to or at least in awareness of previous and contemporary writing, and are often illuminated by confrontation with neighbouring or contrasting works. The literature of Europe, in particular, is extraordinarily rich in this kind of cross-cultural fertilisation (one thinks of medieval drama, Romantic poetry, or the Realist novel, for instance). On a wider stage, the major currents of European philosophy and art have affected the different national literatures in varying and fascinating ways. Many European and North American university courses in literature nowadays teach and research literature in faculties of Comparative and General Literature. The series intends to tap the rich vein of such research.

Offers of contribution are invited, whether studies of specific writers and relationships, or wider theoretical investigations. Proposals from established scholars, as well as more recent doctoral students, are welcome.

The series editor, Peter Collier, is Emeritus Fellow in French at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. He has translated Emile Zola (Germinal, Oxford World’s Classics, 1993), and Marcel Proust (The Fugitive, Penguin, 2002), has edited several collections of essays on European literature and culture, including Critical Theory Today, with Helga Geyer-Ryan (Polity Press & Cornell University Press, 1990) and Artistic...

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