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Photograph - Eugene McConville

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Dangerous Freedom

"They tell you one thing but you are not free."

Papillote Press announces the forthcoming publication of Dangerous Freedom. In this radical and moving novel, Scott weaves fact with fiction to reveal "the great deception" exercised by the powerful on a mixed race child born in the late 18th century and brought up in the London home of England’s Lord Chief Justice.

Dido Belle was the daughter of an African-born slave and the sea-faring nephew of Lord Mansfield. She was freed only on Mansfield’s death and became Elizabeth D’Aviniere on her marriage. Scott imagines Elizabeth’s adult world where she reflects on her disturbed childhood and fears for her own children’s safety at risk from slave catchers. Above all, she yearns for her lost mother. Why did she no longer write? Had she, too, been recaptured? The novel builds to a powerful denouement as the events of Elizabeth’s past engage with the traumas of her present.

"In Dangerous Freedom I am trying to redress what I see as the romantic portrayals of Dido in art, film and literature," says Lawrence Scott, whose first novel Witchbroom, set in Trinidad, became a BBC Book at Bedtime. "I wanted to question the sketchy history we have of Dido and, through fiction, to alter the psychological and political perspectives. I hope that the novel can add to our understanding of a pain that remains just below the surface of contemporary life."

Endorsements

Lawrence Scott enters the unknown life of a historical figure, the young woman born into slavery whom we know from a famous painting as 'Dido', the ward of Lord Mansfield Moving from intense personal feeling to the larger politics of imperial trade, and riven with the terrors of pre-abolition society, Dangerous Freedom reveals how powerfully an act of fictive empathy can dispel long shadows of historical forgetfulness. Marina Warner

'An absolutely fascinating tale, rescuing the enigmatic figure of Dido from the frames of history and powerfully giving voice to her story and that of her enslaved mother. Recounted in part through a series of vivid letters, the novel subtly exposes from a female perspective the fraught conflicts of abolition, at the same time pointing to continuing ethical issues around race, equality and human freedoms which sadly persist today.' Susheila Nasta

 

Historical Note

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in 1761. In 1765 she came to England with her father John Lindsay, a naval officer, and her mother, the African-born Maria Belle, who was legally Lindsay’s slave as was their daughter. Dido was taken to live with Lindsay’s uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield, at Kenwood House, in north London, where she spent nearly 30 years. Dido’s freedom was confirmed by Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, in 1783. Ten years later Mansfield died and in that same year Dido married John d’Aviniere. They had three sons and lived at Ranelagh Street in the Pimlico district of London. Elizabeth died in London in July 1804.

Maria Belle bought her freedom when she returned to Florida in 1774. John Lindsay died in 1788.

The accounts of the Mansfield judgments as used in the novel are based on historical fact but serve the story of this fiction.

Links

James Walvin reviews Belle, the film, for BBC History magazine - Link

The only known image of Dido Belle is on display at Scone Palace, Scotland - Link

Margot Stringfield research - Link

Amber Butchart looks at Dido Belle, arguably Britain's first black aristocrat. - Video

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