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3.8 out of 5 stars95
3.8 out of 5 stars
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That I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in less than a day is testimony to the skill of the author. It's also testimony to the fact that it's a relatively short book and very light on detail. In truth, there is not enough here to justify calling this a biography. This is not a book about Dido herself - there is simply not enough trace of her in the historical record to write little more than a paragraph on her. And that's a shame, a real shame, because a full biography of this woman would be fascinating. Dido occupied a relatively unique position in Georgian society - a black woman, the illegitimate daughter of a slave and a naval captain, raised in luxury and privilege by the highest legal authority in the land, a man who may have been influenced by his affection for her in deciding a case that opened the door to the abolition of the slave trade.

Unfortunately, that's about all you could possibly write about Dido herself, and the real significance there is less about her and more about her relationship with Lord Mansfield. The bulk of this book, well-written as it is, explores the context of her life - the abolition movement, Lord Mansfield and his famous ruling in the Somerset case that opened the door to abolition, the abolition movement itself and the famous names like Granville Sharp and William Wilberforce. But it's not about Dido. Her story is yet another casualty of the prejudice of the day: she is all but invisible to history.

After reading this, I'll be curious to see the film based on this book - it can surely bear little relation to historical fact, simply because there is so little historical fact when it comes to Dido's life. I suspect artistic licence will have run rampant, but when has that ever stopped film-makers?
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on 20 May 2014
Unfortunately, a lack of actual sources prevents Dido Belle's life being described in any detail whatever the title may claim. Nevertheless, Paula Byrne has produced a good general read for anyone interested in the judicial process leading to the abolition of the slave trade.
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on 13 August 2014
Sometimes a person doesn't leave much evidence of their existence but their influence can be felt by the events happening around them. Dido Belle is one such person.

The illegitimate daughter of an English Naval officer and a captured african slave, she could have lived her life on a Caribbean plantation but she didn't. Brought up in her father's extended family in England, she became a much loved companion to an influential judge. His life is more public and his many judgements on the subject of slavery helped to change public opinion and ban the practise in England.

Of Belle there is just one painting and a few references in censuses and correspondence. Therefore, as stated in other reviews, this isn't really a biography but more an exploration of the times and society. It is a really fascinating story of a unique woman.
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on 6 June 2014
With the new film directed by Amma Asante just starting to trickle into cinemas, I picked this up from my local library to delve into the story that inspired the film. Paula Byrne charts the rise of William Murray, 1st Earl Mansfield and tells the incredible story of his adopted niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle using well detailed research and contemporary case studies to paint the picture of her little know life. The book also provides excellent background knowledge and context of the eighteenth century and abolition movement, which is something I wasn't too familiar with but found fascinating. An excellent read for anyone interested in eighteenth century social history...I enjoyed this very much!
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on 4 November 2014
This book is for those of you who like to seep there reading in historical fact. For me it lacked the cohesiveness of storytelling which put the subject at the heart of the book. It seemed that the heroine was skirted around and given over to subjective speculation and conjecture. A little repetitive at times. Wanting to know more about the subject I felt rather let down by this book, however learning more about the art, law and political artefacts of the day were interesting and informative. Look forward to the film although I am glad that I have a clearer definition between fact and fantasy.
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on 30 April 2015
Having enjoyed the film Belle, I wanted to read the book, Belle: the true story of Dido Belle. The book turned out to be quite different from the film. It is quite common to find that films have adapted the original stories. However, in the case of Belle, the book was written after the film. As Paula Byrne states, her thanks to “ Arabelle Pike… the commissioning editor at William Collins, and Damian Jones, producer of the motion picture Belle, for suggesting that I write this book.”

The result is a book that truly complements the film. It is not just a straightforward story of belle. It is more like a historical documentary. One of the key aspects of the book is a very detailed analysis of many relevant paintings, such as “ The Double Portrait”. These are very educative especially for the non-artistic reader. There is detailed coverage in the book about various aspects of slavery, the slave trade, and the conditions in the human trafficking. Very interesting is the analysis of how the movements for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade were affected by stories of specific expeditions.

The book is invaluable for a reader who wants to have an understanding of human interactions in this very important period in history.
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on 18 January 2015
I can see this is already picked up by some of the reviews, but I have to say it too - I think it's rather unethical for the author and publisher to call it 'The True Story of Dido Belle' and make it look like a biography of Dido Belle. It's a cheap selling technique, as the book only mentioned Dido in passing, maybe a handful of times until page 160 or so - that's when I gave up counting.

The author is talented, she has searched her facts, but whether it's her or the publisher who selected the title and the cover, it's simply, purely wrong trying to sell a book about slavery and abolition using Belle's name.
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on 26 September 2014
Strange reading, why call it a "True Story of Dido Belle", when it's a good account of the life of her Uncle, the Lord Chief Justice? Might tempt more readers if there's the chance of an intriguing story?

Good, interesting account of slavery, but Dido? Her young life, pure conjecture and a brief summary of her later life.

I will be interested to see how the film interprets the book.
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on 2 April 2015
Seems like you are reading a book for O'level. I thought I was learning about Belle but haven't yet had her story. Haven't finished it but not sure if I will. Facts are fired at you about the slave trade, which we all know about, and lots and lots of names are fired at you without a story to hang them on. I read this for book club and will not give it a good review.
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on 18 August 2014
Was this really the story of Dido Belle? Or an albeit well researched and well written explanation of the beginning of the abolition of slavery. Much deduction about Dido: maybe it needed a more accurate title and selling point!
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