An opera singer’s Gothic fiction: the autobiographies of Sims Reeves

Barry, A. M. (2019) An opera singer’s Gothic fiction: the autobiographies of Sims Reeves. Journal of Musicological Research. ISSN 0141-1896 (print) 1547-7304 (online)

Abstract

Male opera singers occupied a problematic place in nineteenth-century Britain, where music was often perceived as a feminized and foreign pursuit, and not a respectable profession. It therefore became imperative for British singers to find ways in which to assert their masculinity, their Britishness, and their respectability. The autobiography offered them an ideal opportunity. The British tenor Sims Reeves (1821–1900) left two memoires, the first of which is especially unusual. While some sections of the volume conform to a conventional autobiographical style, the majority of its chapters could more accurately be defined as gothic fiction, containing a number of sensational short stories that are mostly set in the world of music. These stories function as an attempt to negotiate their author’s problematic identity. While some offer a coded defense against contemporary accusations of greed and alcoholism, others present opera as a respectable profession.

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