Critical Acts
: Modernist Subjectivities in Women's Writing on Performance

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis situates and gives voice to women’s experiences of the performing arts between the 1890s and the 1940s through examining articulations of subjective aesthetic response in a range of critical writing. It addresses ways that women writers on performance were developing innovative approaches to capture and convey lived experiences as spectators and auditors dynamically on paper. Women’s commentaries on performance were both creative works and cultural documents which expressed feelings about and attitudes around particular artworks and contributed to debates about the socio-cultural purpose of art through a variety of literary forms. A range of case-studies highlights women writers who wrote from interdisciplinary mindsets and analyses writings by Rosa Newmarch, Israfel (Gertrude Hudson), Irene Mawer and Velona Pilcher as transformational for the provocative ways they shared experiences of music, dance and theatre with readers, encouraging active involvement rather than passive absorption. The writings are re-evaluated as ‘critical acts’ because of how they challenged established forms of reporting and commentary in their exposure of individual authorial and wider socio-cultural perspectives incorporating vital and imaginative questioning, confession, parody, polemical writing and attempts at ekphrasis. Evidence presented argues that it is the ‘modernist’ nature of the subjectivities informing and constructing the various modes of writing these women developed that defines this creative-critical work as avant-garde because of the ways it sought to capture and represent the experience of performance as a live event. Recognising subjective reception as significant and researching the networks which gave rise to it and in which writings were read, enables the intersections between the history of ideas, cultural politics and the sociology of taste to be examined. In turn, this sheds new light on the idea of music, the relevance of theatricality, and the power of the performing body as presences rather than absences from cultural history.
Date of Award18 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorInga Bryden (Supervisor) & Millie Taylor (Supervisor)

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