Call for Papers: Charles Dibdin and His World

‘Charles Dibdin and His World’, 28-29 November 2014
University of Notre Dame London Centre
1 Suffolk Street, London, England

2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Charles Dibdin (1745-1814), perhaps the most versatile and talented actor, musician, playwright, and songwriter of the 18th and 19th centuries. Across his career Dibdin played the organ at St Bride’s in Fleet Street, collaborated with Isaac Bickerstaff on comic operas, acted at Drury Lane, Covent Garden and numerous other theatres throughout Britain, was director of music at Ranelagh Gardens, performed in blackface as Mungo in his opera The Padlock, translated French opera, opened his own theatre (twice), went to debtor’s prison, toured the country with a one man show, opened a publishing warehouse, wrote novels, memoirs, and a history of the English stage, published three music text books, and composed several thousand songs.

In addition, Dibdin’s sea songs were central to establishing the Royal Navy as the mainstay of British patriotism, in spite of mutiny, sedition, and the press-gang, playing a significant role in uniting a fractious nation after the upheavals of the 1790s. Charles’ private endeavours were also prolific. Family members included his daughter Ann Dibdin Dacre, a talented artist who provided illustrations for Dibdin’s Memoirs. His affair with the actress and dancer Harriet Pitt (1748?-1814) resulted in a daughter, and two sons: Charles Isaac Mungo Dibdin (1768-1833), who staged spectacular mock-sea battles in his aquatic theatre at Sadler’s Wells; and Thomas Dibdin (1771-1841), opera librettist, poet, composer and author of numerous theatre-pieces including Harlequin and Humpo, between them continuing their father’s legacy into the nineteenth century.

Such diverse careers touch on almost all aspects of musical and theatrical culture in the late Georgian period, and demand a truly interdisciplinary approach. The premise of this conference is that understanding the life and work of the Dibdin family necessitates a re-examination of the wider world of performance and literary culture of which they were so integral a part. To this end we invite proposals for papers in any discipline on any aspect of the life and work of Charles Dibdin and his family, or that illuminate the world of this subversive, patriotic, irascible, and gloriously anarchic writer and performer.

Topics might include:

  • Patriotism, propaganda and performance
  • Orientalism and the staging of empire
  • Blackface and representations of race
  • Legitimate and illegitimate theatre
  • Celebrity, biography, reputation
  • Gender and the public sphere
  • Performance practices
  • The one-man show
  • Music and morality
  • Genre and composition
  • Origins of the music-hall
  • Book history and broadsides
  • Theatrical and musical economies
  • Music markets, copyright and piracy
  • Forms of writing: the novel and the song
  • Provincial and metropolitan entertainments

The conference will be in a workshop format consisting of a series of roundtable discussions of pre-circulated papers. Dinner, accommodation, and a performance of Dibdin’s songs will be provided for all participants. Papers will be circulated by 14 November 2014. These will form the basis of a collection of essays placing Dibdin in his world, providing new ways to conceive of the relationships between legitimate and illegitimate theatre, elite and popular entertainment, and provincial and metropolitan performance. Abstracts (max 500 words) for 3-5,000 word papers should be sent with a short biography to [email protected] by 26 May 2014.

For more information please contact the organisers Oskar Cox Jensen (King’s College London), David Kennerley (Oxford) and Ian Newman (Notre Dame) at [email protected].

This conference forms part of the ERC-funded project ‘Music in London, 1800-1851’, led by Professor Roger Parker, King’s College London, with support from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame. Full CFP (pdf)
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