Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study examines the presence of musical innovations in the language of individual works of Edith Sitwell, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf. Facade, Four Saints in Three Acts, and Between the Acts, all use the techniques of transformative musical forms in their own literary disruption in conventional forms. These works reveal an interaction between musical forms and literary forms, whether analogous (as in Between the Acts) or literal (Facade and Four Saints in Three Acts) the experiment of music in writing and the location of literary experiment by women writers generally in a historical context. For these writers, the ephemeral process of performance, rather than the concrete existence of fixed text, questions the rigid distinctions between modes of expression and offers a dynamic opportunity for interchange, borrowings, and play between them. The thesis suggests that both language and music operate as loose referential systems which are in a dynamic dialogue with one another. Collaboration in musical theatre operates on a dialogic model not only in the writing process, between librettist and composer, but also in the process of performance. Dialogue in opera and in the novel is dependent on an active interchange of voices and on the specific blurring of disciplinary boundaries. Sitwell puts a concern with sound and rhythm over a concern with 'sense,' or rather she expands the notion of 'sense' in poetry, offering a symbolist "derangement of the senses" in the manner of Stein. In setting her unconventional libretto to accessible, playful music, Thomson offers a performance of Stein's textual techniques: the opera emphasizes the self-reflexive, rhythmic, and above all playful, qualities of Stein's text. The interdisciplinary project in Between the Acts has the 'de-familiarization' of accepted generic forms as its goal. In all these works, notions of dialogue are expanded to include not only the specifically discursive content of language, but also other modes of expression. Where music and language overlap in meaning production and evasion, discourse is revealed to be performative and unconfinable. Language is revealed, in these writers' work, to be a shady and shifting ground for political assertion and subversion.



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