Home Books Biography Critical Essays
Bibliography TV and Radio Previous Engagements Archive Contacts


palmbranch palmbranch
palmbranch LawrenceScott palmbranch

Photograph - William Hearle


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."


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


'Scott’s imagination weaves historical events and artifacts (Equiano’s abolitionist meetings, Lord Mansfield’s decisions, David Martin’s 1778 Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and Lady Elizabeth Murray) into a moving reconstruction of Elizabeth’s life experience. Lyrical and gripping, this book shows how good historical fiction can be'
Richard Price: New West Indian Guide, 2022

'Dangerous Freedom is a triumph of narrative form and based on historical events and people. In a very obvious way, Dangerous Freedom is a historical novel; but, like the best of them, it speaks resoundingly to our time.'
Keith Jardim: South Asian Review of English

'Elizabeth/Dido’s story directly and fully via historical research is a gift to a canny novelist. Scott chose a third-person narrative, which permits a little distance. He has forever changed our relation to the famous portrait of “Dido” and Beth by his invention of a complex life of resistance for Elizabeth d’Aviniere, thus raising important questions about the nature of freedom and the role of writing, especially for women of color in slavery time.'
Elaine Savory: Small Axe Project

'Scott illuminates the obscure areas of Elizabeth’s freedoms, rendering overlooked domestic and social exchanges in luminous narrative portraiture. In its finest moments, the novel tugs at connective emotional tissue between Elizabeth and her mother, revealing chasms of love and loss.'
Shivanee Ramlochan: Caribbean Beat

'With its keen observations on the trauma of family loss, separation and racism, Lawrence Scott's Dangerous Freedom hums with a quiet power and unembellished poignancy.'
Nicole-Rachelle Moore – Writers Mosaic

'Dangerous Freedom is a book, which deserves to be read by all.'
Dominique Lancastre - Pluton Magazine

'A moving and compelling novel that delves into the dreadful trade in humans.'
Peter Gruner – Camden New Journal

'With all those palaces, jewels and paintings, it's not hard to see why contemporary culture tends to romanticise black figures within the British upper classes. Works such as Dangerous Freedom are now offering an alternative view, stripping the aristocracy of its glamour, giving a voice to the enslaved and narrating the discrimination, isolation and tensions that we've seen still endure. The progressive fairytale – or utopian reimagining – will always have greater appeal. But perhaps, as Scott suggests, it's time for a new story to be written.'
Fedora Abu, BBC Culture Feature

'A new novel gives a voice to Dido Belle. Dangerous Freedom “draws together fragments of history to give Dido a voice.” and reflects Dido’s uneasy status within the Mansfield household. Scott is concerned “with misty-eyed romantic renditions” of Dido’s life that gloss over the background of slavery and portray her as an equal in aristocratic Georgian society.'
Bridget Galton, Ham & High

'She yearns for the love of her long-lost mother and fears for the future of her children. Scott sympathetically resurrects a life half-hidden in the shadows of history'
Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times

'This is a beautifully written novel which gives Elizabeth d’ Aviniere – known to history by the imposed name of Dido Belle – a voice and a life of her own, sensitively imagined and constructed by a major Caribbean writer'
Bridget Bereton , Trinidad Express
 link1 link2

'In his new novel Dangerous Freedom, Lawrence Scott’s major achievement has been to put his reader in the mind-set of the people of Elizabeth d’Aviniere’s now 200-year-old Age of Emancipation. Scott takes his reader into the world as it then was, where to be black was to be captured on the streets of London and sold to a slave ship headed to Jamaica. He knows his way around a sentence.'
B.C. Pires, Newsday

'This is a thought-provoking and subtle novel from an award-winning Trinidadian writer, which will not be easily forgotten.'
Ann Northfield, Historical Novel Society

'Scott’s works contribute to the understanding of the British implication in the slave trade and slavery by staging historical and visual archives. They also demonstrate the centrality of such documents in any attempt to draw a nuanced picture of the history of the nation, as fragmentary as these archives might be..'
Bénédicte Ledent, Project MUSE

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.


Bocas Festival Bios & Bookmarks, 8th February, 2022, Shivanee Ramlochan & Lawrence Scott - Video

Lawrence Scott - Link

From "Dangerous Freedom" by Lawrence Scott - Moko Magazine - Link

Making History: Lawrence Scott & Lauren Francis-Sharma - Video

Lawrence Scott's book launch: Dangerous Freedom - Video

A celebration of Lawrence Scott's new historical novel "Dangerous Freedom" includes a short film ...4 Apr 2021 - Uploaded by Papillote Press - Video

Black History Lunchtime Coinversations - Video

Still living, Still Writing, Still Together - Zahra Gordon - Link

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




Critical Essays


TV & Radio

Previous Engagements