About the Book (and website…)

Book cover. Text: Imagining Musical Pasts: The Queer Literary Musicology of Vernon Lee, Rosa Newmarch, and Edward Prime-Stevenson; Kristin M. Franseen The image is taken from a John Singer Sargent painting of an orchestra rehearsal being watched by a group of clowns.
Book Cover (the image is from John Singer Sargent’s Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver (c. 1879))

Imagining Musical Pasts: The Queer Literary Musicology of Vernon Lee, Rosa Newmarch, and Edward Prime-Stevenson is now available from Clemson University Press. It is distributed by Liverpool University Press and Oxford University Press and will be a part of the inaugural group of books included in JSTOR’s Path to Open program to increase diversity in academic library acquisitions and open-access scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

From the Book Description: Imagining Musical Pasts explores the complicated archive of sources, interpretations, and people present in queer writings on opera and symphonic music from ca. 1880-1935. It focuses primarily on the work of three turn-of-the-twentieth-century music scholars–philosopher and horror writer Vernon Lee (pseud. Violet Paget), biographer and program note annotator Rosa Newmarch, and critic and amateur sexologist Edward Prime-Stevenson. Each of the three major sections of the book is organized according to the authorial personae each author adopted in their creative and scholarly work. These categories reflect the particular intellectual commitments of each figure: Lee’s fascination with the failure of written documentation to fully capture the “ghosts” of past musical experience, Newmarch’s reliance on documentary evidence to reveal some of her subject’s secrets and her stated discomfort with the role of the biographer, and Prime-Stevenson’s nostalgic use of repetition, revision, and dedication to “return” to the 1890s decades after the fact. By reframing these ways of knowing as central to each scholar’s individual approach to constructing and interpreting musical and sexual knowledge, the book draws attention to aspects of their work previously neglected or considered only in isolation.

Identifying the coded references, careful nuances, and intentional and accidental gaps that make ambiguity an inherent feature of these sources requires an awareness of multiple approaches to music history beyond biography and historiography, intersecting as it does with literary scholarship, art history, the histories of science and medicine, and sound studies. This project proposes some ways in which the histories of sexuality and musicology might be more intertwined than commonly assumed.

About the website: Imagining Musical Pasts explores issues of sources, interpretation, and readership in works by three late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century music scholars: Vernon Lee, Rosa Newmarch, and Edward Prime-Stevenson. I am especially interested in the strategies Lee, Newmarch, and Prime-Stevenson used to find ways of addressing (or, in some cases, strategically not addressing) issues surrounding gender and sexuality in the decades prior to the development of any kind of organized feminist or queer approaches to musicology. The sources linked and discussed on this site are some of the primary sources from my book project. My goal here is to make this content more accessible and available, especially since most are now in the public domain and many are digitized and freely available online, but they may not generally be considered in terms of their relationship to musicology or LGBTQ+ literature. I will also post occasional updates here, including blog posts on my research questions, links to other works of public scholarship, and (eventually) a planned future podcast on gossip and other unreliable sources in musicology.

Funding Acknowledgment: This project was supported in part by doctoral, postdoctoral, and knowledge mobilization grants from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et Culture (FRQSC). My research was conducted in the Department of Music Research at McGill University from 2013-2019 and the Department of History at Concordia University from 2021-2023. I am also grateful to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia for providing feedback on some preliminary archival research from this project. My archival research on Edward Prime-Stevenson (conducted at Dartmouth College and in the personal collections of Brighton independent scholar Tom Sargant) in summer 2022 was supported by a grant from the Ora Frishberg Salomon Fund of the American Musicological Society.