Black and White Singing: Race, Social Class, and Music-Making in Sarah Harriet Burney’s Novels

Black and White Singing: Race, Social Class, and Music-Making in Sarah Harriet Burney’s Novels

Danielle Grover

Author Biography

Danielle Grover defended her doctoral thesis on the role of music in late eighteenth-century fiction at the University of Southampton in 2012. She has held visiting fellowships at the Burney Centre in Montreal (2008) and at Chawton House Library. She has presented papers at numerous international conferences, most recently at the Burney Society conference (2021) and at ASECS (2018). Her published articles have primarily focused on music in Frances Burney’s and Jane Austen’s novels. She was a Teaching Fellow at University College Dublin; has taught English at the Universities of Surrey, Portsmouth, and Southampton; and has designed and delivered fifteen Jane Austen courses around the UK, including one for Times + (January 2022). Currently, Danielle is a part-time Lecturer and Tutor in English.


This article explores connections between musical performance, race, and social status in Sarah Harriet Burney’s novels, Geraldine Fauconberg, Clarentine and Traits of Nature. It examines representations of white music-making in Clarentine before comparing the uneasy relationship Burney sets up among music, social class, and race in Geraldine Fauconberg alongside depictions of race in her bestseller, Traits of Nature. Chronologically, Burney’s novels shift from a positive representation of musical accomplishment in Clarentine to a more negative representation in Traits of Nature. Burney’s racial attitudes can be viewed through the lens of music-making. In this vein, there are similarities between Black characters and musically accomplished women as both are subject to a specific type of scrutiny which Burney deplores. Contemporary racial theory and Burney’s background are considered alongside episodes of music-making and representations of Black characters in the novels.


music; Burney, Sarah Harriet, 1772–1844; race; Black; white; musical accomplishment; Geraldine Fauconberg; Clarentine; Traits of Nature

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