Author: Paula Byrne
Genre: Historical treatise-novel
Synopsis: Readers, if you seek a love story…this is not one. Should you prefer a mere proclamation against slavery…this is not one. For, every society and civilization that achieved vast economic and cultural strides was built on slavery. The Egyptians, the Greek, the Romans, the English, the Spanish, and the Americans owe their wealth and cultivation through the misery of a subjugated caste.
Paula Byrne is not a romance novelist. She sheds new light upon the dark corners of the English, the French, the Spanish, and the American role in the Atlantic slave trade. In earnest detail, the author of Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle (2014) unveils the true story behind the portrait that was first revealed in work by J.A. Rogers many years past. The indignity of rape, slaughter, and the inhumane treatment of the unfortunate fellows on the slave ships is told. Dido becomes the legacy of the cargo. She was the daughter of an aristocrat sent to live with a relative. She endured the inhumanity and the isolation of those of her caste. But, she was able to bring recognition and justice by her mere placement in a noble home.
Dido’s father was Captain (Sir) John Lindsay. Her mother was, historically, a nameless slave woman. History chose to deny Dido a name and a place in the records. Was she a blemish upon gentile society? Yes. Was Dido a reminder that the Other was in fact human, a link to mainstream society? Yes. Lord Mansfield was her guardian. History records his birth, accomplishments, and death. He was a noted fellow. The Egyptians had a custom of removing the name of disenfranchised Pharaohs from all public monuments and records. Without a record, there is no memory and one ceases to exist…..if one ever did.
The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the English, the Spanish, and the Americans have rewritten history. Very few monuments and accolades celebrate those who sponsored the wealth and the culture of these people. Dido Belle represents the offspring of this selective memory.
Critique: I read many of J.A. Roger’s books as a high school student. At the time, he was slandered and his work was not recognized. I am glad that his work is now obtaining respect. It is very late. Paula Bryne offers us the vehicle of Dido Belle to confront the role of slavery in Western society. In the movie, there is the beauty of a young girl. In the movie, there is the love of a guardian. There is the romance that awaits our heroine, in the movie. But, the blemish that she represents as a stain upon proper, English society is not removed. This book was most informative. The book ought to be read before the movie. Movies are fantasy. Dido’s life was raw and real.