An Instrument in Comparative Oblivion? Women and the Guitar in Victorian London

Clarke, Sarah (2021). An Instrument in Comparative Oblivion? Women and the Guitar in Victorian London. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis develops our knowledge of the guitar in Victorian England by focusing on amateur players. It demonstrates that the instrument did not fall into the oblivion claimed in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1880. Two areas of investigation are given providing sufficient evidence that interest in the instrument was maintained throughout this era.

A survey of teachers, including anonymous advertisers and governesses, demonstrates that tuition continued throughout the period. Some lowering of interest is evident following the great popularity of the instrument in the 1830s but a renaissance occurred in the last two decades of the century. The eighty English method books studied confirm this finding. Not only were new books published as the century progressed but evidence shows that earlier books continued to be available from publishers.

Research in these areas throws light on the identity of the amateur players. Whilst some pupils were men, the majority were almost certainly women or girls. The costs of learning suggest that many of them would have been from wealthier classes in the early years of the century and would have started learning the instrument after having first learnt the piano. In the later years of the century there was a wider social base of players in the expanding middle class and there was less evidence that students already possessed keyboard skills.

Two case studies conclude the thesis giving examples of aristocratic amateurs; the first illustrates the guitar in the early Victorian years where it was enjoyed privately in a country house and the second demonstrates how, in later years, amateurs used the instrument in ensembles and took it into public places for charity events.

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