Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. Peter Walmsley


This interdisciplinary thesis examines rare poetic, didactic, fictional, and musical texts written by women in latter eighteenth-century Britain for instances of and resistance to contemporary perceptions of music as a form of social control. The opening chapter defines and historicizes the term "social harmony," by discussing neoclassical views of musical affect as productive of beneficial social behaviours and gender definition. By delineating canonical aesthetic theorists' influence upon women writers and musicians and assessing music's place in women's moral education, this chapter complicates the idea of separate public and private spheres of cultural achievement and introduces expanded views of women's agency as composers and performers. Next, the thesis appraises women's engagement with charity, musically enacted, through formal musical and textual analysis of hymns, songs, and benefit performances and publications. It marks the productive intersection of patronage and charity for women, who could articulate divergent responses to such idealized or stereotyped objects of pity as prostitutes and madwomen and benefit materially from so doing. The third chapter considers women composers and writers' employment of imitative and associative aesthetic practices in nature's musical representation, including neoclassical and realist pastorals, the picturesque, and the sublime. It traces development of a hybrid aesthetic of natural representation that enables performative and compositional separation of femininity from nature in forms including the novel, song, and pastoral drama. The final chapter identifies contemporary anxieties concerning the depiction of political, moral and gender-role stability within an increasingly international musical discourse. It analyzes women's musical conceptions of cultural difference and national identity in ballad operas and pastiches in light of these conflicts. By crafting works consonant with societal ideals of charitable, natural, and national order-or by re-imagining their participation in these musical aids to social harmony-women composers, lyricists and performers contributed significantly to the formation of British cultural identity.

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