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The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195365870

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195365870.001.0001

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Gautier’s “Diva”

Gautier’s “Diva”

The First French Uses of the Word

(p.123) Chapter 7 Gautier’s “Diva”
The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

J. Q. Davies

Oxford University Press

This chapter is dedicated to elucidating the complex of meanings of the word “diva,” suggesting that this term was not associated originally with its modern connotations of ego and celebrity. Instead, it shows how the term in its earliest French operatic usage denoted a fantastical creature of multiple overlapping subjectivities, depicted ironically and cultivated in the colorful, phantasmagorical writings of Gautier. Investigating two poems and a children’s tale, this book observes how Gautier drew on contemporary phenomena (such as performances of duets by famous prima donnas, particularly the Grisi sisters), and ancient definitions of the diva as a three-form goddess. In so doing it outlines the various cultural ambiguities that once surrounded this term, and demonstrates how Gautier’s originally ironic intentions may have enabled the current meaning of the term “diva” to emerge.

Keywords:   subjectivities, diva, Gautier, Grisi, goddess, three-form

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