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“Silver Fork” Novels and the Place of Voice

“Silver Fork” Novels and the Place of Voice

(p.235) Chapter 12 “Silver Fork” Novels and the Place of Voice
London Voices, 1820-1840
Cormac Newark
University of Chicago Press

Voice as a metaphor for national self-determination was a familiar element in commentary on opera, critical and literary, in the nineteenth century. The subject was often Italy: natural birthplace of the art form and, during almost the entire period, a state in a continual process of becoming. But the “silver fork” novel The Opera (1832) by Mrs. Gore offers a thoughtful exploration of that metaphor set not in Italy but in England, where the state was undergoing a somewhat different process. This essay discusses representations of singing in a variety of media—ranging from textual reports to domestic and theatrical performances—embedded in Gore’s narrative. It does so with the aim of mapping out her implicit interpretative framework, which is firmly predicated on various other meanings of “voice,” but artfully constructed around a principal character, La Silvestra, who is a fashionable prima donna. It shows how the novel exposes to illuminating scrutiny the questions of class, artistic patronage, gender, and representative democracy that were particularly pressing in England at the time Gore was writing, during the debating of the Reform Bill (1831–1832) and the beginnings of the female suffrage movement.

Keywords:   Mrs. Gore, silver fork novel, voice as metaphor, patronage, Reform Bill, representative democracy, female suffrage

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