Williams, Vanessa

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  • Publication
    Now We've Got Our Khaki On: Woman And Music In First World War London
    (2017-01-01) Williams, Vanessa
    Scholarship on British perspectives on the First World War now consistently incorporates reflections on wartime labor on the Home Front, particularly on women’s roles as nurses, factory workers, philanthropists, and care-givers. However, the creative work that produced the War’s popular culture—the material and affective labor of artists and audience members—is still largely absent: artistic responses to the conflict are studied chiefly through masterpieces of elite culture that conveyed appropriately elegiac affects of mourning and that continue to perpetuate modern conceptions of the War as a monolith of male martyrdom and heroism. This dissertation bridges this gap, situating women’s music-making within contemporary national debates over the political, economic, and social ramifications of women’s wartime work. During the First World War, the affective labor of musical performance and consumption became entwined with medical care, education, social control, and anxieties over wartime gender and class roles. Performers used their musical labor not only to earn a living and provide entertainment but also to extend the possibilities for women’s involvement in wartime politics, sometimes in support of state-driven agendas, sometimes in service of alternative political and social standpoints. Using archival sources, I explore these constellations of music, wartime, and gender through four case studies: the male impersonator Vesta Tilley and her performances in character as a soldier; female musicians in music-hall orchestras, and their relationship with the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union; the United Suffragists’ Women’s Club and its musical activities of concerts, folk dancing, and gramophone records; and Lena Ashwell’s Concerts at the Front, whose performers toured across France, Malta, and Egypt. These case studies broaden the scope of scholarship on women’s experiences of the First World War, demonstrating both how popular culture was shaped by the conflict, and how performers and audiences used music-making to shape and expand their wartime roles.