La Voix d’esprit:
Music, Jouissance; Vernon Lee, Willa Cather
Raymond Garcia III
“The myth of the sirens […] reminds us of the jouissance of music, the pleasure of surrender and engulfment, and the fears of making bad choices under the influence of uncontrollable substances—and the dangers of dissolving a safe distance between self and other.” Linda Phyllis Austern (60)
Though separated by over a decade, differing interpretations of literary theory and technique, and the wide azure Atlantic Ocean, the English aesthetic author Vernon Lee and the American novelist Willa Cather both struggled with the understanding of not only the unconscious, but also the method by which the psyche might be unfettered and freed from societal ideologies of the sexed body. In Lee’s “A Wicked Voice” (1890) and Cather’s The Troll Garden (1905), characters experience symphonic and operatic music which not only haunts their psyches, but extends beyond the Pleasure Principle, thus resulting in a jouissance through which the protagonists are able to momentarily escape from the weight of physicality. Sigmund Freud would not introduce the principle of pleasure until the publishing of Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920. Likewise, Jacques Lacan would not reveal jouissance until after his seminar entitled “The Ethics of Psychoanalysis” (1959-1960). What this reveals is the proto-psychoanalysis which is already underway in women’s writings. The gap between Lee and Cather and Freud and Lacan however must be explained. What exactly was Lee and Cather’s purpose in demonstrating a proto-jouissant metaphysicality?
The English novelist Vernon Lee is mostly known for her supernatural tales, the best known being A Phantom Lover (1886), “A Wicked Voice” (1890), and “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady” (1896). In “A Wicked Voice,” Magnus, an operatic composer seeking inspiration for his own work Ogier the Dane moves into the former home of Balthasar Cesari, the renowned castrato Zaffirino. After destroying Zaffirino’s portrait, Magnus is haunted by the voice of the deceased singer. For Magnus, the voice of Zaffirino not only represents the unattainable, it becomes a torture, a punishment for his own inability to discover his own imagined character. By the end of the story, Magnus becomes demented as a result of the effects of music, made mad by that which he seeks to dominate, the musical genius which awakens life and stifles the human construct.
Music and its later incorporation into early psychology was always an issue in Vernon Lee’s writing. In her first published work, Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880), Lee dedicated more than half of the text to the subject of music and theater, her most notable chapters being devoted to “The Musical Life” and “Metastasio and the Opera.” In Belcaro: Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions (1883), Vernon Lee writes,
To us music is no longer what it was to our grandfathers, a mere pleasing woof of meaningless pattern; we have left those times far behind, times whose great masters were prophets uttering mere empty sounds to their contemporaries; we have shaken off the dust of the schools of counterpoint, we have thrown aside the mechanical teachings of the art; for us music has become an audible, quivering fata morgana of life, the embodiment of the intangible, the expression of the inexplicable, the realisation [sic] of the impossible (106-107).
For a woman writer in the fin de siècle, sexual realization translated to primitive abandon, to being cast from the socially hegemonized Eden of England’s literary circles. However, her desire for sexual awareness still ruptures from beneath the surface of her novels and short stories.
Undoubtedly, some will question this hypothesis as to how Vernon Lee defines a female jouissance if the protagonist is male. It should be remembered that Vernon Lee often incorporated autobiographic information into her fictions. In the case of “A Wicked Voice,” Vernon Lee creates a protagonist based upon herself, utilizing her early life in Italy, in the company of John Sargent. Of Vernon Lee’s many early pleasures, the portrait of Carlo Broschi, or Farinelli (hung in the G. B. Martini Conservatory of Music) had a particular effect. Peter Gunn writes
It was [Farinelli] who sang the same three songs every night for ten years to ward off the incipient madness of Philip of Spain. The beauty of this picture fascinated, haunted them, and the desire to hear again one of these eighteenth century voices (a Farinelli or a Pacchierotti) became something of an obsession with Violet (61).
One might note that this sounds awfully familiar. By incorporating this quotation into the reinterpretation of this text what results is a clear parallel between Violet Paget’s early life with Magnus and Zaffirino with Farinelli. Yet, why would Vernon Lee choose to make her protagonist a man? For this answer, we must turn to Burdett Gardner’s The Lesbian Imagination. Throughout his work, Gardner mentions the semivir which generally means partially man. It is Gardner’s opinion that Vernon Lee, Violet Paget’s superego, is a semivir—a partial man (316). Yet at the same time, “partially man” describes both Farinelli and the fictitious Zaffirino. Just as Zaffirino is castrated and thus recentered upon the mouth-as-womb, so Vernon Lee is partially masculinized, thus refocusing her procreative powers to her mouth as writer, as the symbolic womb.
Though much scholarship has been written concerning Lee’s supernatural tales and the author’s psychological hunger for the unnatural, almost nothing has been written discussing the issue of jouissance in Lee’s short story. Though Vernon Lee was ideologically opposed to the sexed body, “A Wicked Voice” still demonstrates the idea of a going beyond the physical, beyond the phallus as Jacques Lacan would say, extending to a more fundamental, primitive sexual identity—something Lee herself found to be the true terror of civilized society. Lee writes
Singer, thing of evil, stupid, and wicked slave of the voice, of that instrument which was not invented by the human intellect, but begotten of the body, and which, instead of moving the soul, merely stirs up the dregs of our nature! For what is the voice but the Beast calling, awakening that other Beast sleeping in the depths of mankind (125).
It is this external/internal transference which Lee unveils, the movement of the former (the singer’s voice) inward (into the listener’s body) and the movement of the latter (the listener’s jouissant response) outward. This in a sense mimics Nietzsche’s theory of Kunsttrieben—being artistic impulses. Yet, even with this reasoning exposed, fuller description of Lee’s two creations must be offered. In order to truly understand Vernon Lee’s depiction, one must first define the Beast and the other Beast.
Even before the writing of “A Wicked Voice,” Vernon Lee indulged in a unique interpretation of music which dwelt beyond the virtuosity and genius, and existed only in the textuality of voice, through ejaculatory tones emanating from the orifice which breathes and lives. For Vernon Lee, the result of such sensorial stimuli would be a grappling between what Friedrich Nietzsche deemed the Apollonian and the Dionysian (The Birth of Tragedy). In “On Vernon Lee, Wagner, and the Effects of Music” Carlo Caballero writes, quoting Roland Barthes, “As Barthes concludes, the singing voice acts on the body as a ‘lubricator,’ a coenesthetic fluid: music “possesses a special hallucinatory power […] it can effect orgasm”” (392). If Barthes’ theory is correct, then beyond the cloth of societal ideology exists a primitive nakedness, the body which music lubricates, the fluid which brings about self-awareness. This nakedness and psychosexual rapture is not exclusive to “A Wicked Voice.”
In one of her previous works entitled Miss Brown (1884), Lee wrote,
Moreover, an incalculable amount of singing out of tune and pummeling one’s chest in moments of passion. No training, no dresses, no scenery, no orchestra. Still in this miserable performance there was an element of beauty and dignity, a something in harmony with the grand situation and glorious music (101-102).
Beyond the nakedness of the stage, which reflects the nakedness of the audience, there pulsates the singer’s voice which pervades its hearers with a shower of self-awareness, what René Árpád Spitz termed coenesthesia, what Vernon Lee possibly termed the metaphoric text or life-poem to borrow from Miss Brown. This calling beast is the first which Lee reveals, a behemoth or leviathan awakening from the depths of the flesh to heighten pleasure into pain, thus resulting in jouissance, the enjoyment of the flesh, what Lee deems that other Beast which rejoices in the mouth/womb and sexual renaissance of its victim. This embracing of the sexual self, though contrary to Vernon Lee’s own hypothesis of female sexuality and womanhood, can clearly be seen in “A Wicked Voice.” When Magnus is confronted with the legend of Zaffirino, Lee writes “The most skilful physicians were kept unable to explain the mysterious malady which was visibly killing the poor young lady” (127-128). It is this malady, a weakening of the thighs and beautiful agony (“les facettes de la Petite Mort”) of the spirit and mind that has stricken Lee’s characters. Through this moment of pleasure in pain, the character is delivered unto revelation, a gospel of the skin and nerves which reveals the true self, the apollonian/dionysian impulses of Magnus, devoid of social construct and fallacy. It is the gospel according to Vernon Lee. “A Wicked Voice” is Lee’s own attempt at characterizing a new language for discussing what Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds deemed introvert sexuality (Sexual Inversion 1901) and the construct of womanhood.
For Magnus, a measurer of notes and tones and a scribe which subjugates abstractions and forces them into meter and octaves, the idea of sexual abandonment is a great fear. Orgasm, la petite mort, is not a danger because it is pleasure, because it is the little death; orgasm is dangerous because it represents the undoing of the construct, the shattering of the musical bars and metrics of Ogier the Dane and demonstrates the true opera at hand, the moaning revelation that Magnus is the music, is the instrument that must be played in order to salvage the living fragments of reality. Though this salvation means denying his abstinence of the flesh, becoming a hypocrite as it were, Magnus obliges willfully, showing only obligatory hesitation. Lee writes, “May I not hear one note, only one note of thine, O singer, O wicked and contemptible wretch?” (148). In order to maintain his individuation from society, Magnus must embrace the apollonian, must allow the music within him to well up and burst forth in celebration of the soul made flesh, and the flesh-made self. Just as Magnus loses his societal self, so does the author. Vineta Colby, a Vernon Lee biographer, writes regarding Music and Its Lovers (1932), “In her pursuit of the Apollonian, Vernon Lee came dangerously close to undermining her musical aesthetics” (223). Just as Lee came close to rupturing her own musical theory forty years later, so it is clear that she experiences this same struggle in “A Wicked Voice.” Likewise, for Vernon Lee to reveal the sexed body, she would have to reveal the construct of herself as woman and as writer. This is the danger which the novelist must fear. For Vernon Lee to release herself through her character, she would have to expose her own psychosexual need for release.
After Magnus’ daunting adventure fleeing the music of Zaffirino, he relents, “[Zaffirino] was killing this woman, and killing me also, with his wicked voice” (146). If Magnus’ death was indeed true death from which there is no relief, then how and why does Magnus survive? In Lee’s topsy-turvy, supernatural world, Magnus is not saved from death and given life, Magnus is saved from life and given death. For Lee, fin de siècle life was tantamount to artificiality, to the social hegemonic construct. It is only through death, through ejaculation and orgasm, that the character is offered true life, is offered a hidden path into his own psychosexual existence.
By experiencing la petite mort through the castrato’s music, Magnus is forever changed. Though well-wishers would come, offering support and good will, hoping for a swift recovery, Magnus would never recover. Lee writes:
Recovery? But have I recovered? I walk, and eat and drink and talk; I can even sleep. I live the life of other living creatures. But I am wasted by a strange and deadly disease. I can never lay hold of my own inspiration. My head is filled with music which is certainly by me, since I have never heard it before, but which still is not my own, which I despise and abhor (147)
Though she grapples with the Dionysian and Apollonian, attempting to come to a singular conclusion, Vernon Lee understands the transcendental quality of musical experience—that the listener and hearer are forever marked by it. In Music and its Lovers; An Empirical Study of Emotional and Imaginative Responses To Music (1932) Lee writes, “Music acts as a liberation of the spirit, a refreshment, a purification, a renovation, a spiritual bath, a journey into tremendous and mysterious regions, or modestly, something akin to a day in the country” (97-98). If her words remain true earlier in her career, even during the writing of “A Wicked Voice,” then her musical aesthetic remains the same. Magnus’ spiritual bath, his journey into tremendous and mysterious regions remains eternally with him. Magnus’ trek into the musical, psychosexual realm leaves him marked. He has reached the apex of sexual awareness and as a result must eternally be changed within the social construct. Magnus knows that even though those around believe him recovered, he, however, knows the truth—that beneath the surface of normality, within the boundaries of normative living, there exists an alternate state of wholeness of the spirit and flesh made one. This unity of the sexed self is what Lee deems the strange and deadly disease. An interesting feature of the aforementioned passage from “A Wicked Voice” is the use of the word deadly. Is the disease which she imagines a disease of the psychosexual body or is it an allusion to something altogether different? Perhaps her use of deadly does not infer finality or ending, but returns to la petite mort, the little death, the little deadly. Perhaps Lee’s passage truly reads more like: ‘I am languorous (“wasted”) by a strange and orgasmic (“deadly”) event (“disease”)’ (147).
If this interpretation is sound, then the next structural step would be to determine its use. For the impotent Magnus as characterized by his loss of inspiration, sexual realization translates to a confrontation with the self, a standing before the speculum (to borrow from Luce Irigaray)—the mirror which reveals the sexed and the body. As a result, Magnus, who could not achieve inspiration, comes to the realization that he himself is the inspiration, that he must play himself like an instrument in order to become one with the music swelling within.
He must become the font of ecstasy which resides within all human beings, a beast feeding another beast, a sexual thirst which quenches itself in autoeroticism. Thus, it is clear that for Vernon Lee, this inner being, this wildness within, this strange and deadly disease is nothing more than a rupture of the primitive from the smooth calm of social construction.
Though Willa Cather may seem unconnected to Vernon Lee, she in fact had a history of studying the writings of certain women writers who could be characterized as dealing with sexual identity: among them Julia Ward Howe (The Hermaphrodite); and Susan Coolidge (The Barberry Bush). In her biography Willa Cather: the Emerging Voice, Sharon O’Brien remarks, “If we extend the circle [of literary figures whom Cather knew] we find among her correspondents most of the women writers of the day […] Violet Paget (Vernon Lee) ” (339). If O’Brien’s research is correct, then it is possible to argue that Willa Cather had indeed read Vernon Lee’s musical theories as found in Studies of the Eighteen Century in Italy, Music and its Lovers and potentially in private letters as well. Likewise, it could be argued that Cather was influenced by Vernon Lee’s musical aestheticism as found throughout her short story “A Wicked Voice.” If this were true, then perhaps the unique characters of The Troll Garden are in fact kaleidoscopic echoes of characters which Willa Cather had been introduced to in the works of her predecessors.
Just as Vernon Lee attempted a decade prior, Willa Cather also attempted to incorporate a new language for something which was barely becoming visible in psychology. However, whereas Vernon Lee’s appreciation for music is rooted in her passion for aestheticism, Cather’s is rooted in her own early experiences with music, notably her years at the University of Nebraska where she joined up with a “lively cultural scene which featured, after drama, a number of local and traveling musical offerings” (Giannone 3). Though Lee’s language is somewhat unique, the concept and power of jouir is maintained even in Willa Cather’s anthology The Troll Garden. Among these short stories, all of which contain some aspect of the Apollonian or Dionysian, two pieces pronounce most boldly Cather’s vision of the sexed body: “A Death in the Desert” and “A Wagner Matinée.”
In “A Death in the Desert,” Everett Hilgarde visits the dying Katharine Gaylord as an ambassador as it were from his own brother Adriance whose musical career keeps him afar in Europe. Though once a singer herself, Katharine is dying from a disease which hinders her singing and wastes her away from the inside out. Cather writes, “The long, loose folds of her white gown had been especially designed to conceal the sharp outlines of her emaciated body, but the stamp of her disease was there; simple and ugly and obstrusive, a pitiless fact that could not be disguised or evaded” (68). Finally, Everett plays and sings a portion of Adriance’s new opera Proserpine after which “a ghost of the old, brave, cynical” Katharine is revived (77). Katharine eventually passes away after the concert, still fantasizing Adriance’s presence and Everett’s non-existence. Just as Lee’s character Magnus was haunted by Zaffirino’s voice, Cather’s characters are constantly surrounded by the haunting music of Adriance. Whereas Lee’s characters are separated by time, Cather’s are separated by space—Adriance being in Europe, while Everett and Katharine are in the “monotonous country between Holdridge and Cheyenne” (61).
Even before reading the short story, there are signs of a double entendre within the title—“A Death in the Desert.” If the connection between death and la petite mort is continued into Cather’s text, then a new interpretation is revealed, one which does not focus on the slow emaciation and death of a listless singer, but one which focuses on the sexually denied body, starving for psychosexual sustenance which music can provide. Though Richard Giannone is convinced that Katharine Gaylord is being consumed by tuberculosis, it seems as though Cather’s intention is much deeper, focusing on the metaphysical little death of a former singer, a former minister of the little death. Concerning her condition, Cather only offers symptoms such as emaciation and depression. These do not seem indicative of lung disease but of something much more psychopathological. Perhaps Cather is describing an episode of Charcotian hysteria. Only then would it seem more understandable for her to remark,
He made no attempt to analyse the situation or to state it in exact terms; but he felt Katharine Gaylord’s need for him, and he accepted it as a commission from his brother to help this woman to die. Day by day he felt her demands on him grow more imperious, her need for him grow more acute and positive; and day by day he felt that in his peculiar relation to her, his own individuality played a smaller and smaller part.(74)
Had Everett attempted to analyze Katharine’s condition, he would have found the same–that through his post-orgasmic exhaustion (as signified by the music he sings, a metaphor for ejaculation), she grew stronger and more alive, that through Adriance’s voice sung through Everett, Katharine would “[close] her eyes with a long-drawn sigh of relief” (79). If Katharine’s disease were lung disease, then how exactly can one attain relief through music? Instead of centering this disease upon the lungs and therefore the inhibited voice, perhaps scholars should consider focusing her sustenance not only as the result of the pulmonary system but also as a result of psychosexuality. Katharine’s death is not excruciatingly tormenting but ends with an orgasmic sigh, a release of not only the kempt up sexed self but also of the soul being released not through the mouth, but through the mouth/womb, what some modern radical feminists (such as Cherrie Moraga and Inga Muscio) deem the cunt.
This mouth/womb metaphor can be seen in Adriance’s opera Proserpine which undoubtedly is a retelling of the Greek legend of the rape of Persephone the daughter of Ceres by Hades, god of the underworld and of the dead. Katherine has become a Persephone, one who was once sexually alive in the former half of her life and is now dead in the womb in the latter half; she cannot create life through her singing or her genitals. Instead, she has become “an earthen vessel in love with a star”—her womb has become a dried up, clay bowl (the pudendum) desirous of insemination (by the penetrating music of Adriance) (70). The dried up vessel therefore leads to yet a deeper aspect of Katherine’s psychosis. She has become dried up as the land about her, though she is in the land of the living, Katherine/Proserpine dwells in the land of the dead, a death in the desert.
In playing with the opera Proserpine, what is revealed is the same construct which Vernon Lee employed in “A Wicked Voice,” being the creation of a living world that is dead and a dead world that is living. In other words, the real, physical world is in fact dead and the metaphysical, psychosexual world is in fact alive. Thus, no matter Katherine’s location, she is always surrounded by the dead, the hollowed men (to borrow from T. S. Eliot). Even if she were permitted to die in Harlem (as to her request), she would still be enveloped with the abstract life-in-death. Everett is hollowed by the power of Adriance’s music. Through the short story, Everett is erased and supplanted by the echoes of Adriance’s image and voice. Likewise, Adriance himself becomes hollow. Though his music is alive, the character itself is not present, existing in a space outside of the text, living in a Europe which is not truly presented in the short story.
Yet, what exists which can fill the body with life? By incorporating a psychosexual coitus in her vision of music, Cather creates a character which abstractly is penetrated by the power of music and the power of the living voice. Though the vessel of the voice may be within life-in-death, the voice itself emanates, pulsates, even throbs. As it pervades the body, it enlivens it, it restores to it that which has been lost. Katherine thus becomes a vessel not only for the abstract seed of music, but becomes a vessel for the land itself. Through her musical insemination, Katherine revitalizes the landscape of her body, the desert itself personified. She becomes alive in the moment of death; “the madness of art” which Cather describes as “over for Katherine” has restored her to the living, metaphysical realm (82).
Though this one story may seem by itself inconclusive, being that Willa Cather wrote nearly sixty short stories and six books, the utilization of yet a second text to corroborate these findings will add more conclusiveness. Only two stories later in The Troll Garden, Cather employs the same technique and ideology in characterizing Aunt Georgiana. In “A Wagner Matinée,” Cather creates yet another narrative in which music revives the dead, brings life to the lifeless and death to the living.
Just as landscape and the sexed body are important to “A Death in the Desert,” so Aunt Georgiana’s country home becomes vital in understanding the origins of her own sexual famine. Instead of locating Georgiana above ground, Cather buries her in the Nebraskan dirt. She writes, “They built a dugout in the red hillside, one of those cave dwellings whose inmates so often reverted to primitive conditions” (103). Whereas in O Pioneers! (1913) these primitive conditions represented a return to the womb, for Aunt Georgiana and her musical past, the dugout represents a burying of the psychosexual self, a place where the body and soul may rot, pinned down by domesticity and societal bonds. Thus, for “A Wagner Matinee,” the dugout represents the sterilized womb, the womb which has been cut, sewn up, and clitorectomized.
Prior to her marriage, Aunt Georgiana was “a music teacher at the Boston Conservatory,” a prestigious school famous for being one of the first to open its doors to women and African Americans (103). Because of her marriage and her so-called marital duties to her husband, she abandoned her musical career and chose thirty years of isolation (not only locally but sexually as well). As the result of time and endurance, the vibrant, young, psychosexually fertile woman becomes disfigured:
her shoulders were now almost bent together over her sunken chest. […] She wore ill-fitting false teeth, and her skin was as yellow as a Mongolian’s from constant exposure to a pitiless wind and to the alkaline water which hardens the most transparent cuticle into a sort of flexible leather (103-104).
Like Katherine Gaylord’s consumed body, Georgiana’s vibrancy and love of music are sacrificed for the sake of social ideology. Cather writes, “Don’t love [music] so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh! dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice may be, it be not that” (104). Because she has seemingly sacrificed her life’s only passion, she is transformed from a living being into an hegemonized automaton skinned over with tanned human leather. Yet buried deep within this socially obliging character, dwells a hidden self, a sexually charged self which can only be unleashed with music, through the sexual restoration of her deformed body.
When Clark escorts Aunt Georgiana to the theater at two o’clock, a time when Georgiana would undoubtedly be tending to housework, she becomes “a trifle less passive and inert, and for the first time seemed to perceive her surroundings” (105). In seeing her surroundings, Georgiana is graced with an epiphany of much more than the simple theater around her. In the climactic “Begluckt darf nun dich” of Wagner’s Tannhauser, Georgiana’s true form is revealed to not only Clark and the countless women in the audience, but also to herself. The leather skin begins to fall away to reveal the true Georgiana, a woman emblazoned by the fire of the voice of body and soul. Cather writes, “Then it was I first realized that for [Aunt Georgiana] this broke a silence of thirty years; the inconceivable silence of the plains” (107). In this moment, Georgiana is sexually awakened from the societal torpor of domesticity. When she clutches her nephew’s coat sleeve, she arrives at self-awareness through arousal, filling every inch of her body, identifying its boundaries and defining her; she reaches out in need of an anchor, the lack of which would result in total abandon. In her sighs and quickly drawn breaths, Georgiana experiences jouissance (108). Like Katharine from “A Death in the Desert,” Georgiana becomes “a shallow vessel overflow[ing] in a rain storm” (109). The drought ends. The famine ceases. For a brief moment, Georgiana lives. At the “ripping of the strings” of violins and of the countless bodices in the audience, the universal woman as signified the Wagnerites becomes released, becomes alive, no longer being torn from her true identity, but from the leather skin, the asphyxiating bodice, the titles and names which in and of themselves describe nothing more than the epithets of domestic slavery. In this moment of jouissance, in this moment of tingling life, Cather as a prophetess of women reveals the path by which one may ascend towards the higher self, the self not torn in two at the junction of self and society, that liminal space through which countless are subjugated and remanded to obeisance.
In Le Séminaire, Livre X: L’angoisse, Jacques Lacan writes, “Once it is known, once something of the Real comes to be known, there is something lost; and the surest way to approach this something lost, is to conceive of it as a fragment of the body” (115). When society chose to condemn characters like Katherine and Georgiana to the title of unsexed woman or wife or hysteric, their true identities were erased, cast off like fragments, like old skins. For Katherine, this meant enduring a disease which slowly stole her breath away. For Georgiana, this meant being forced to endure the stifling yellowed leather suit, forced to endure the loud silence of the Nebraskan countryside. In the stories of The Troll Garden what Willa Cather demonstrates is not only the continuation of slavery, but its expansion into the psychosexual realm. Katherine and Georgiana are slaves not only of society but of the delusions perpetuated by those women who are in accordance with hegemonic forces. It is music, that which does not speak but speaks, that which does not expound ideology but simply is, through which these women are freed, through which the stitches silencing their wombs are broken, through which the autoerotic clitoris is restored and the flesh revivified.
Thomas Carlyle wrote in Heroes and Hero-Worship (1897),
The meaning of Song goes deep. Who is there that, in logical words, can express the effect music has on us? A kind of inarticulate unfathomable speech, which leads us to the edge of the Infinite, and lets us for moments gaze into that (114).
In allowing for jouissance in their characters, Vernon Lee and Willa Cather attempted to articulate this unfathomable speech, to create a new dimension for women’s sexuality and psychology. Lee’s Magnus and unnamed princess, Cather’s Katherine and Georgiana are only ever alive when music pervades their bodies, when the universal harmonies radiate through their flesh and spirits. As O’Brien remarks in Cather’s biography, “Music, then represents the spiritual bond between creator and the receiver,” between the incorporeal spirit and the mundane flesh, between the psyche and the sexed body (7). Thus, jouissance becomes the symbol of this psychophysical event, this meeting of immortal and mortal. Jouissance becomes the liminal space upon which identity is formed. Through jouissance one can attain identity freed from societal, oppressive ideologies. Through embracing the sexed self, one may attain one’s self, gaze into the speculum and see one’s self and nothing more.
Austern, Linda Phyllis and Inna Naroditskaya. Eds. Music of the Sirens. Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press, 2006. Print.
Caballero, Carlo. “‘A Wicked Voice’: On Vernon Lee, Wagner, and the Effects of
Music.” Victorian Studies, 35.4 (Summer 1992): 385-408. Print.
Carlyle, Thomas. Heroes and Hero-Worship. Vol. V. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1907. Print.
Cather, Willa. “A Death in the Desert.” Cather: Novels & Short Stories 1905-1918. Des
Moines: The Library of America, 1999: 61-82. Print.
– – -. “A Wagner Matinée.” Cather: Novels & Short Stories 1905-1918. Des
Moines: The Library of America, 1999: 102-110. Print.
Colby, Vineta. Vernon Lee: A Literary Biography. Charlottesville: University of Virginia
Press, 2003. Print.
Gardner, Burdett. The Lesbian Imagination (Victorian Style): A Psychological and
Critical Study of “Vernon Lee.” New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1987.
Giannone, Richard. Music in Willa Cather’s Fiction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1968. Print.
– – -. “Music, Silence, and the Spirituality of Willa Cather.” Renascence. 57.2 (2005):
Gunn, Peter. Vernon Lee: Violet Paget, 1856-1935. New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire, Livre X: L’angoisse. Unpublished Gallagher translation,
Lee, Vernon. Belcaro: Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions. London: T Fisher
Unwin, 1887. Print.
– – -. Miss Brown. Vol. 1. London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1884. Print.
– – -. Music and Its Lovers: An Empirical Study of Emotional and Imaginative Responses
to Music. London: Unwin Brothers, 1933. Print.
– – -. “A Wicked Voice.” Hauntings: Fantastic Stories. New York: Cosimo, 2009: 123-
O’Brien, Sharon. Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1987. Print.