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Music matters in fiction: Creative and critical reflections

Cox, Geraldine (2015) Music matters in fiction: Creative and critical reflections. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis comprises two components: a creative piece, titled Impromptu I—X and a critical dissertation. Both pieces endeavour to investigate the use of music in fiction, and attempt to answer the following questions: What is the relationship between music and literature? What is the role of music in narrative fiction? How can reading a work from the perspective of music enhance our understanding and interpretation of a text? Within a musico-literary framework these questions seek to highlight key aspects of human experience, relationships and stories and thus enrich the interpretative potential of the verbal narrative.

Impromptu I—X, from which sections I-V are included in this thesis, is a creative piece that harmonises on two story lines. One line unfolds in contemporary Park, a fictitious inner city suburb of Perth, and the other unravels the past of Mena, an industrial town of Western Australia, purpose-built in the early 1950s to house European migrant workers and their families. Impromptu I—X encompasses a variety of moods, manipulates patterns of time and rhythm, and evokes a narrative of familial and social relationships built from distinct voices and unique characters. The musical form, impromptu, is the organising principle of Impromptu I—X, while at the narrative level, music is represented as integral to the characters’ lives through dance, song, music works and their cultural histories.

The dissertation draws on the work of cultural musicologists Lawrence Kramer and Susan McClary, literary theorists Stephen Benson and Eric Prieto, and cultural historian Gerry Smyth, to explore new ways of reading and interpreting the relationship between music and literature in three contemporary texts: Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), the first novella of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004), “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”, and Tim Winton’s Dirt Music (2001). The musico-literary analysis opens these texts to larger socio-political, historical and cultural contexts and questions, and in doing so enhances the power and significance of human expression and experience represented in fiction.

This thesis thus demonstrates how fiction can be transformed by the interplay between music and literature, and it encourages readers to listen and respond imaginatively to the music in fiction.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Surma, Anne and Owen, Christine
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