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Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle Paperback – 8 May 2014
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‘A touching account … artfully constructed’ Sunday Times
‘The theatrical zest of the narrative, which is a tie-in with a movie of the same name, holds it all together’ The Times
Praise for film previews of ‘Belle’:
‘A lovely, female-centric romance that completely reinvents the period movie in a way that will resound for quite some time’ Empire
‘Elegant and emotionally satisfying … this handsome period piece tells a continually fascinating, unusually layered story’ Variety
Praise for Paula Byrne’s ‘The Real Jane Austen’:
‘The portrait of Austen that emerges is sparklingly multi-faceted, catching the light in intriguing ways … her Jane is far less likely to go for a quiet walk in the garden than she is to be whisked into town in search of a velvet cushion, a necklace or a smart new dress’ Mail on Sunday
‘Engaging, compelling, a delightful and engrossing book. Of course we all know that the "real" Jane Austen will forever be a mystery, but most 21st century Janeites will adore this one. Byrne's passion is nothing if not persuasive’ Sunday Times
‘Brilliantly illuminating … riveting. By focusing, chapter by chapter, on one thread or another of Austen's experience, Byrne allows us to grasp the richness of her inner life’ Simon Callow, Guardian
About the Author
Paula Byrne was born in Birkenhead. Her first book, Jane Austen and the Theatre, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize. Her second book, Perdita, was a Richard and Judy book-club pick and a best-seller. Both her third, Mad World:Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, and her most recent book, The Real Jane Austen, were published to rave reviews and became best-sellers. She is married to Jonathan Bate and lives in Oxford.
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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.
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?
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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