The First French Uses of the Word
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.
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