Modernism's handmaid: dexterity and the female pianist

May, William (2013) Modernism's handmaid: dexterity and the female pianist. Modernist Cultures, 8, (1), 42-60. (doi:10.3366/mod.2013.0050).


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Modernism lingers with a malevolent fascination on women’s hands. Celeste M. Schenck has uncovered a striking series of metaphors from reviews of the period which use the female body to represent poetic form, and find it subject to a series of violent dismemberings. Yet the hands of the concert pianist Harriet Cohen (1895-1967) trouble these readings, transforming the female hand from object of speculation to agent. She made a virtue of her famously small stretch, prompting commissions from Bartok and Bax for which she retained sole performance rights. Drawing on fictional and poetic depictions of Cohen by D. H. Lawrence and Rebecca West alongside contemporary debates about hands and the pianist's touch, this paper will examine how the female pianist's hand repositions ideas about agency, autonomy and gender, and consider the implications of this work for our understanding of literary-musical modernism.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.3366/mod.2013.0050
ISSNs: 2041-1022 (print)
1753-8629 (electronic)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions : Faculty of Humanities > English
ePrint ID: 345173
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
1 May 2013Published
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2012 14:38
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 14:37

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