Biography, Women's History

Women’s History Month: Jenny Lind

Jenny Lind or Johanna Maria Lind (1820-1887) was a nineteenth century Swedish opera singer. She was the illegitimate child of the school teacher Anne-Marie Felborg and Niclas Jonad Lind, a bookkeeper. They married when Jenny was 14. From childhood, she had a remarkable voice and was accepted to the Swedish Royal Theater School, where she studied opera and drama. She began to perfom on stage at 10, was a favourite of the Royal Swedish Opera at 17, and a singer in the Royal Court by 20.

In her twenties, she performed across Europe, until her marriage in 1852 to Otto Goldschmidt. When touring Denmark in 1843, she met Hans Christian Anderson (author of The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling), whos is said to have fallen in love with her and written several fairy tales for her, including ‘The nighingale’, which later led Jenny to hold the nickname ‘The Swedish Nightingale’. It is rumoured that she had a romantic relationship with the composor Felix Mendelssohn, until his death in 1847.

In 1849, she was invited to perform in the US and negotiated a fee of $1,000 a night for 150 nights, plus expenses. In the end, she gave 93 American performances, giving much of her $1,000 a night to various American charities. In February 1852, she married Otto in the US and they returned to Europe in May. They had three children. After her marriage, Jenny Lind ceased to give professional performances, but continued to give a number of public performances until 1870. She also worked as a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music. Lindt died in 1887 of cancer in Malvern, Worcestershire.

She is remembered by several public buildings and songs and dances in her name, but, perhaps appropriately, in 1847, a class of steam locamotive took her name- the Jenny Lind locamotive. In the same year, she was touring the United Kingdom and Ireland to great acclaim, inspiring audiences across the country, as this newspaper report suggests:

‘Jenny Lind’

 A well dressed young man who gave him name as John Oliff was charged with disturbing the peace in Stephen’s Green [Dublin]; the policeman was on duty when he heard the most extraordinary sounds. ‘He could not call it bawling or shouting, nor yet could he designate it singing, although it bore a stronger affinity to the latter, than it did to the former, taking the key of the freestone note into account. On his approach to the place from whence this strange noise proceeded, it became somewhat like the pipes in “Tam O’Shanter”- it loud and louder grew; but, unlike the scene described by Burns, where Tam stood gazing on the witches, the prisoner in the present case appeared to be the witch and seven-eighths of the servants in the houses were out at the doors or peeping through the windows to ascertain what it was all about.

The constable addressed Mr Oliff very civily and requested him to desist lest he should frighten the inhabitants of the Green from their beds; but the more he interceded for peace, the more outrageous did the defendant become, and continued such a “pullalieu” that it became rather serious. The defendant said he had been to hear Jenny Lind, and he was merely imitating some of her notes, and he plainly told the officer that the people ought to be very much obliged to him for his condescending to act the Swedish Nightingale without fee or reward. The constable said it might be very delightful no doubt, but the street was not the place to please the people this way. ‘Tut you fool’, says the defendant, ‘you don’t know anything about it; go on about you business and just allow me to follow my vocation’.

By this time the whole Green was in commotion- the inhabitants flung up their windows and the people came running in all directions from the adjacent streets. Two policemen (said Steele) who were on duty at Baggot Street Bridge, and who heard the screetching quite plain, came up post haste, batons in hand thinking it was an earthquake or some other small matter of the sort which had happened and all flattered, coaxed and besought of the defendant to go away, but all to no purpose, as he continued to screech in the most awful manner, protesting he was only imitating Jenny Lind!

The virtues of the station-house was at last tried and Mr Oliff having been confined to a cell continued to warble all night to the great terror of all persons confined there. Some of the prisoners nearly got frantic and one nervous person declared it was the last trumpet which he heard. Several person described the shouting as the strangest and most unearthly thing they had ever heard. The prisoner appeared rather dejected, and said he was merely practising a song or two when going home. He was fined 1s by Mr Tyndall.

‘Dublin Police’, Freeman’s Journal, 1 Sept 1847.

Katie Barclay wonders whether the title of this article referred to the singer or the locamotive- perhaps a wink from a knowing journalist to the nineteenth century public. Her research is investigating why someone would choose to get arrested, rather than cease singing in Dublin’s public spaces.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,