The Power of Her Voice: Music and Patriarchal Politics in Frances Burney's Cecilia

  • Megan Grandmont
Keywords: Fall 2010, humanities, English


Saint Cecilia is, to the Catholic Church, the patron saint of music. But to feminist musicologists Suan Cook and Judy Tsou, she is instead the "patronized" saint of music, a symbol of the limited role to which women have been traditionally confined in Western music. In her novel Cecilia, however, Frances Burney works to reclaim the figure of the female musician from the periphery of artistic relevance. Burney's music-loving protagonist Cecilia serves as a vehicle to explore a number of eighteenth-century concerns, most notably emerging class conflicts and the tension between a women's personal investment in art and the male, public world that devalues that art. Burney situates her heroine paradoxically both inside and apart from patriarchal society; it is Cecilia's music that allows her to stand on the brink. Burney certainly acknowledges the ways in which music functions as a tool of patriarchy, rendering women submissive. However, in re-visioning Saint Cecilia as simply Cecilia,, she also quietly suggests the possibility of change, a suggestion that holds weight for female artists today.

Author Biography

Megan Grandmont
Megan Grandmont is a member of the College of Arts & Sciences Class of 2010 and a native of Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Her essay, "The Power of Her Voice," is excerpted from her senior English honors thesis. After graduation, she is excited to continue exploring her passions for literature, music, politics, and women's issues. Megan would like to thank Professors Beth Kowaleski-Wallace and Paul Lewis for their continued encouragement and guidance.
How to Cite
Grandmont, M. (2010). The Power of Her Voice: Music and Patriarchal Politics in Frances Burney’s Cecilia. Elements, 6(2).