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Virginia Woolf and Classical Music

Politics, Aesthetics, Form

Emma Sutton

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Explores the formative influence of classical music on Woolf's writing

In this unique study Emma Sutton discusses all of Woolf’s novels as well as selected essays and short fiction, offering detailed commentaries on Woolf’s numerous allusions to classical repertoire and to composers including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner. Sutton explores Woolf’s interest in the contested relationship between politics and music, placing her work in a matrix of ideas about music and national identity, class, anti-Semitism, pacifism, sexuality and gender. The study also considers the formal influence of music – from fugue to Romantic opera – on Woolf’s prose and narrative techniques. The analysis of music’s role in Woolf’s aesthetics and fiction is contextualized in accounts of her musical education, activities as a listener, and friendships with musicians; and the study outlines the relationship between her ‘musicalized’ work and that of contemporaries including Joyce, Lawrence, Forster, Mansfield and Eliot.

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List of Abbreviations and Editions Used in the Text
1. On Not Writing Opera
2. Killing the Pianist in the House
3. Death in Effigy
4. Fugues, Flights & Free Association
5. What it Really Means to be English
6. Only Suggest

About the Author

Emma Sutton is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Her publications include Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (Oxford UP, 2002), and Opera and the Novel (co-edited with Michael Downes, 2012). She is a contributor to Cambridge UP’s forthcoming Wagner Encyclopedia, is editing The Voyage Out for their scholarly edition of Woolf’s work and has written widely and broadcast on music and literature.


...should be acquired as a matter of priority by any academic library wanting to keep its collection of Woolf scholarship up to date.
- JAMES ACHESON, Journal of Language, Literature and Culture, 62.2

Sutton’s readings of Woolf’s writing are fresh and mature, full of new insights and precise contextualization, and capture the pitch of Woolf’s writing just right.

- Andrea Zemgulys, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, Volume 58, Number 2
Sutton’s listening is both attentive and inventive, and brings a new sophistication and subtlety to our understanding of musical–literary relations in modernism.
- Will May, University of Southampton, The Review of English Studies

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