Black Dandyism

Detail from "Dandy Jim from Carolina; a Popular Negro Melody" (New York: Frith & Hall, and J. L. Hewitt, 1843), Sheet Music

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Michèle Mendelssohn considers the dandy in early 20th-century African-American culture

20th-century dandyism was deeply rooted in 19th-century literary and performance cultures. Michèle Mendelssohn examines two of dandyism’s intertwined roots: the European dandy tradition (synonymous with Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde) and the blackface minstrel show dandy. Her talk asks what this genealogy reveals about 19th-century dandyism’s descendants, and the cultural burdens they bore? And asks what place do our cultural genealogies make for dandyism’s dark brother, minstrelsy?

This talk considers how early 20th-century African-American writers renegotiated their relationship to dandyism and how one man in particular sought to make black dandyism new. In this talk, Dr Mendelssohn discusses W.E.B. Du Bois’s struggle with this theme in Dark Princess: A Romance – a fascinating, cosmopolitan novel that engages some of dandyism’s most problematic legacies. She explores how this most influential Renaissance Man of African-American letters grappled with this fraught tradition and, in the process, attempted to redraft literary modernity’s lines of transmission.

Michèle Mendelssohn is Associate Professor in English and American Literature at Oxford University. This talk is presented in collaboration with the ‘Aestheticism and Decadence in the Age of Modernism: 1895 to 1945’ conference at the Institute of English Studies, University of London.

Sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library in collaboration with the Institute of English Studies, University of London

Institute of English Studies


Name: Black Dandyism
Where: Staff Restaurant
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
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