Marie Dubedat – the Irish Nightingale
U 8.888-91: May I tempt you to a little more filleted lemon sole, miss Dubedat? Yes, do bedad. And she did bedad. Huguenot name I expect that. A miss Dubedat lived in Killiney, I remember. Du de la French.
U 15.1586-7: The lady Gwendolen Dubedat bursts through the throng, leaps on his horse and kisses him on both cheeks amid great acclamation.
U 15.4354-6: Miss Dubedatandshedidbedad, Mesdames Gerald and Stanislaus Moran of Roebuck, [etc.].
Joyce was intrigued by the literary possibilities of the name ‘Dubedat’, and he refers to the family numerous times in his work. Fritz Senn is undoubtedly right in saying that, although there was a Miss Du Bedat in Killiney, 'this fact is of far less importance than the use her name is put to’.1 But the Du Bédats were a successful family in nineteenth-century Dublin who were at times dogged by misfortune and scandal, and their associations with Joyce are worth investigating further. Joyce spells the name in the form now most current in France, but the Dublin family tended to prefer the spelling Du Bédat. Newspapers and other printed sources tend to render this as ‘Du Bedat’.
There are several major issues: was the family of Huguenot origin? Which Du Bédats lived at Killiney? And how did Joyce come across the family? But, after a short diversion, the focus of this article will be on the astonishing success of the operatic soprano Marie Du Bédat.
Gifford (Ulysses Annotated) offers some information:
A considerable amount of excellent further research and interpretation has been published by Anne Nolan, principally in “Miss Dubedat and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots” in “Ulysses”.2 For some of her work Nolan draws on Maria Wootton’s The DuBédat Story: Killiney to Kommetji (Tram Cottage Productions, Howth, Co. Dublin: 1999).
Nolan and Wootton provide ample evidence to show that the family were of Huguenot origin. Earlier Du Bédats had been trustees of the Huguenot cemetery in Merrion Row, and members of the family are buried there. In addition, the Irish Times of 21 July 1964 notes in an article about the ‘Suggested Huguenot Cemetery Sale’ that:
The Du Bédats of Killiney
The family had left France in the early eighteenth century. William Du Bédat (1785-1859), noted above, was an Assistant Secretary at the Bank of Ireland in Dublin, and he and his wife Mary had (at least) six sons and three daughters.3 Maria Wootton’s booklet concentrates on Francis (‘Frank’) Edward Du Bédat, the son of old William’s second son William George, a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. Frank was a charismatic figure who rose to become President of the Dublin Stock Exchange. He lived with his wife and family at Killiney. But in late 1890 he was exposed as a fraudster, fled to South Africa, was arrested and returned to Ireland, where he was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment with hard labour.
He had one son and two daughters by his first wife Mary Rosa, whose family lived in Killiney. But they separated and ‘Rosa’ died in 1902, leaving Frank free to marry the Brazilian actress with whom he had been living for several years.
The two Misses Du Bédats living in Killiney in 1904 (according to Thom’s Directory) can be identified as the daughters of the disgraced Frank and his late wife Rosa: Rosa Elizabeth and Mary Rosa. The family appear to have moved to Wilmount, nearer to Rosa’s family, when Frank left.
There is no suggestion that Joyce knew this branch of the family, and he seems to have fabricated a ‘Lady Gwendolen’ and her rather upper-class family purely from the entry in Thom’s.
A Miss Du Bédat on stage
Don Gifford notes a Miss Du Bédat who sang ‘Going to Kildare’ at a benefit held at the Queen’s Royal Theatre for J. W. Whitbread in 1894. Anne Nolan has provided further documentation of Miss Du Bédat’s singing career from 1886 in Dublin, and records several performances into the 1890s.
There seems little doubt that Joyce would have heard of this Miss Du Bédat. She sang very regularly in the Dublin venues with which Joyce’s father, as an avid singer and opera-goer, was familiar – particularly the Antient Concert Rooms in Great Brunswick Street.
When Miss Du Bédat started her singing career in the early 1880s she did not use her first name in publicity material, so it is not surprising that Joyce knows her as ‘Miss Dubedat’. Only later did she become known by her stage name ‘Marie Du Bédat’.
Marie Du Bédat was born Martha Jane Du Bédat in Dublin (at the family home, Compton House, South Circular Road) on 25 January 1860. She was, it appears, the second daughter of Robert and Charlotte Du Bédat (Charlotte came from another Huguenot family, the Dunoyers). Robert, born in 1823, was the fifth son of William Du Bédat, which made Martha Jane (‘Marie’) and the subsequently disgraced financier Frank first cousins.
Marie was starting to attract favourable reviews by 1882:
She performed in Signor Cellini’s annual concert in November 1884 and made it on to the stage of the Antient Concert Rooms again in February 1885 for the Dublin Popular Concerts (the ‘Pops’), alongside numerous other substantial Dublin singers of the day. This was followed by a host of other concert performances: with the celebrated Mr Ludwig (U 12.194, 16.859), Signor Esposito, Charles Kelly, Mrs Scott-Fennell, Bartle M‘Carthy, and others at the Irish Artisans Exhibition in late 1885; more Popular Concerts with Papini, Esposito, Walter Bapty (U 11.927), and W. Houston Collisson.4 She was heavily in demand in Dublin in 1886, and also sang in Folkestone that year:
If she was prominent on stage in Dublin in 1886, she was even more so in 1887 and 1888, interspersing local performances with a big one in London:
Later in 1887 she was singing with Amelia Sinico (a name familiar to Joyceans: see for example 'A Painful Case' in Dubliners, U 6.997, 17.947, and 17.1454) in Belfast:
And in December 1887 she was back in Dublin with Collisson’s Popular Concerts and the Sinicos:
In 1888 she sang Maritana in Wallace’s Maritana (New Leinster Hall), and she performed in ‘Mr J. M. Sullivan’s Ballad Concerts’ in the Antient Concert Rooms, with what has become the familiar crew:
As 1888 progressed, she went on a long tour in England, with Houston Collisson’s Concert Party (and Madame Sinico), appearing in Matlock Bath, Southampton, Eastbourne, York, and back at Matlock, before returning to Dublin for the Christmas audiences at the Dublin Popular Concerts.
By the early 1890s she was appearing in ‘Dr. Collisson’s’ operas: ‘The Knight of the Road’ in the Queen’s Royal Theatre, ‘The Fisherman’s Daughter’ (in a part specially written for her), and in ‘The Warlock’. 1892 and 1893 were no quieter for her, and she must have wondered where to go next. There can be no doubt that her name will have come before Joyce and his father as their lives intertwined with hers in the operatic haunts of Dublin in the 1880s and 90s.
By 1893 she was being referred to in the papers as ‘The Irish Nightingale’:
By the end of 1894 she decided to take the plunge and try her luck, and her considerable ability as a soprano, in London. Her life, as they say, changed ‘for ever’. She was engaged to sing the part of the Dewman in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ at Daly’s Theatre, in a production that eventually transferred through several theatres (the Royal Princess’s, Gaiety, Savoy), notching up over one hundred performances. By now she was billed as ‘Marie Du Bedat’, apparently on many occasions singing Hansel in Miss Elba’s absence.
Soon there were more challenges for ‘The Irish Nightingale’. After a spell with the Burgon Opera Recital Company in London, she signed with the Mapleson Opera to tour in the United States. The Irish Times ran a long and excited report on her successes (17 August 1896), promising that eventually she might return triumphantly to Dublin:
She set sail with the company from Southampton and arrived (on the SS New York) in New York on 6 October 1896. The company was put to work straightaway:
While touring many of the major concert halls in the States, she struck up a friendship with another singer, ‘Marie Toulinguet’ (‘Newfoundland’s Nightingale’, properly Georgina Stirling of Twillingate: hence her stage name), and the pair continued on a tour of America and Canada with the Scalchi Company.5 Mme. Sofia Scalchi, of the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, had also been a member of Mapleson’s company.
She was welcomed in Boston:
And she sang ‘very sweetly’ in Victoria, Canada (Victoria Daily Colonist, 24 December, 1897).
She settled, it would seem, in New York. Although she continued to sing, her voice was apparently beginning to desert her, and her venues were less prestigious. Records of her performances are harder to find:
According to an ‘oral history interview’ with Ludmila Von Sombeck (NBA) she adopted the Baha’i faith in 1909.6 She eventually became a citizen of the United States of America in 1932, at the age of 72. When she petitioned for citizenship in 1929 she gave her occupation as ‘musician’ and ‘singer and teacher’, and her address as 21 E. 21st St., New York, NY. Height 5 ft 2 inches, brown hair, grey eyes.7
The Irish Nightingale, whose fame must have been known to the Joyces, had enjoyed almost fifteen years of success on the Dublin stage before venturing into the London theatres, and then launching herself into a new career in America. Her voice may have left her with her declining years, but she echoes for us today between the lines of Ulysses.
1 Fritz Senn ‘Seven against “Ulysses”’, in James Joyce Quarterly (Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring, 1967), 182.
2 James Joyce Quarterly (Vol. 38, No. 1/2, Joyce and Opera (Fall, 2000 – Winter, 2001), pp. 205-14.
3 Some of this information may be found in the Dictionary of Irish Biography entry for their son: ‘Francis Edward Du Bédat’.
4 For further information on William Alexander Houston Collisson see his entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. On Messrs. Collisson, Esposito, and Papini see for example the article ‘May’s Band’ on this site.
5 Web site of the Twillingate Museum and Crafts, Twillingate, Terre-Neuve et Labrador:
http://canada.virtual.museum/pm.php?id=story_line&lg=Francais&fl=0&ex=168&sl=2781&pos=1 (accessed 8 December 2011)
7 See documents available though the web site fold3.com (principally American military records).
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