English Faculty Publications

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Source

The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction


While the similarities between melodrama and sensation fiction are often noted, the similar use of music in each has been overlooked. Melodrama is characterized by excessive emotion, flat character types, a focus on plot at the expense of characterization and exaggerated expressions of right and wrong. As its name implies, it also relied heavily on musical accompaniment. For much of the first half of rhe nineteenth century, only the patent theatres were allowed to present drama with spoken dialogue due to grants from Charles II in 1660 giving to two royal favourites, Killigrew and Davenant, exclusive rights, which came to belong to the companies at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Incorporating music in the form of songs and instrumental accompaniment provided the minor theatres with a means to skirt this restriction, since lyrics could convey meaning verbally and instrumental music could convey meaning nonverbally to the audience. Additionally, it served to convey action for audience members who were far from the stage, with poor sight lines.

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Document Version

Published Version


This work originally appeared in The Idea of Music in Victorian Fiction, ed. Sophie Fuller and Nicky Losseff (Farnham: Ashgate, 2004), pp. 105-127.

Permission documentation is on file.


Ashgate Publishing Company

Place of Publication

Burlington, VT


melodrama, sensation fiction