'The Instrument of the Century’: The Piano as an Icon of Female Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century
George Eliot–George Henrey Lewes Studies
The piano rapidly became the instrument of choice in the nineteenth century, a fixture in middle-class British households within 30 years of its first becoming available for domestic use in 1771. Absent from male education, learning to play the piano was a standard part of a middle-class girl’s training since it was believed to provide discipline, diversion, and a skill that would help her attract a husband. The piano’s specific class and gender associations suggest it functioned within a middle-class ideology which naturalized these distinctions, as well as defined women’s sexuality. At the same time, both the piano and women’s sexual purity were symbols of middle-class economic status. Due to their association, the piano came to embody the somewhat contradictory cultural conceptions of middle-class female sexuality in the art and literature of the period. … As the middle-class woman is constructed with a bodiless, class-based sexuality, her desire, this paper argues, is displaced onto the piano.
Pennsylvania State University Press
Place of Publication
University Park, PA
Vorachek, Laura, "'The Instrument of the Century’: The Piano as an Icon of Female Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century" (2000). English Faculty Publications. 8.