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Sadly not enough of Dido here to really justify calling this a biography...
on 2 June 2014
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?