Having recently gone on a bit of a period drama-rewatching spree, something has occurred to me: there’s almost never any music in historical romance books.
In fact, the new fad is for female characters in historical romances to reject ALL things that might be considered even slightly feminine. (ALL the cool kids hate sewing – and can’t sew. ALL the cool kids hate dancing – and can’t dance.). Of course they’re crap musicians – ALL the cool kids are!
What I consider to be the most emotionally powerful scene in the 1995 adapatation of Pride and Prejudice is the one that begins with Elizabeth Bennet playing and singing for the Bingleys and Darcys. Then Mr Darcy’s sister takes over, while the clueless Miss Bingley makes a cruel comment and upsets everyone.
The whole scene, while telling you a bunch of other things about the characters and the plot, is about the music. Imagine what a dull – and quiet – evening it would have been without any women with some musical ability!
Watch it below:
In both Pride and Prejudice the book, and every television and film adaptation, Elizabeth and Miss Darcy bond over music, and the snobs use music as a chance to show off.
Then there’s Anne Elliot from another Jane Austen book: Persuasion. There’s that scene where she sheds a quiet tear while playing the piano so the others can dance. There’s no crying in the 1995 movie version, but the scene below at 37:20 shows you exactly how crucial music was for an evening in the Regency era:
Also, in Poldark, Demelza’s triumph over the society ladies comes when she sings at the Christmas party. (As an aside, TV Demelza, Eleanor Tomlinson, did such a good job with her singing in the show that she’s releasing an album!).
Sure, there are some book heroines who enjoy their music. Faith Merridew and Helen Ravenel come to mind. However, we are very much in an era of publishing (and life in general, actually) where authors think that it’s somehow antifeminist for women to anything remotely artistic or creative.
Music isn’t just an art form; it’s to people of two-hundred years ago what television and the internet and evenings out are to us today. It was an essential part of a person’s social life, as it was one of the only ways to break the silence over long, pre-electricity evenings, and to entertain in an era before today’s technology existed.
I do think some authors avoid heroines who play and sing because they – ridiculously – think it’s demeaning to their gender.
However, I also think it simply never occurs to some authors that this was a major aspect of a Georgian/Regency/Victorian person’s day-to-day experience. It’s a little odd.