Author(s): Paula Byrne
The extraordinary true story behind the film Belle. Beautiful, wealthy and sophisticated, Dido Belle appears, in her famous portrait alongside her 'sister' and companion Lady Elizabeth Murray, a vision of eighteenth-century aristocratic virtue. But Dido Belle was no normal eighteenth century Lady, and this was no common painting.
Adopted and raised by Lord Mansfield - one of the most powerful men of the day - Dido Belle's mixed race and illegitimacy became the controversy of English high society. Born to a captured slave mother and a captain in the Royal Navy, Dido's evident grace and adoption by the Mansfield family to be raised as a daughter in Kenwood House challenged English notions of race at their highest rank. Meanwhile, as Lord Chief Justice of England, Mansfield presided over the case that would come to be known as the Zong affair - a crucial legal ruling that would galvanise a nascent abolitionist movement and radically alter attitudes towards the barbarism of the Atlantic Slave trade.
From the elegant surroundings of Kenwood , Dido Belle and Elizabeth, to the economics of the Caribbean and the horrific journeys of African slaves to the New World, Paula Byrne vividly depicts for the first time the diverse contexts of this controversial painting. The portrait shocked its contemporary viewers but also resonated with the public of the time - the name of Lord Mansfield was synonymous with the great civil rights question of the age. Today the picture is presented as an icon of black female history. Telling the story behind the major new film starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson and Miranda Richardson, this book is the real life of Dido Belle.
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
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.