English Faculty Publications

Title

'The Instrument of the Century’: The Piano as an Icon of Female Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-2000

Publication Source

George Eliot–George Henrey Lewes Studies

Abstract

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.

Inclusive pages

26-43

ISBN/ISSN

0953-0754

Publisher

Pennsylvania State University Press

Issue

38-39

Place of Publication

University Park, PA

Peer Reviewed

yes