Dido Elizabeth Belle
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Dido Elizabeth Belle

Belle

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About Her

Grew Up... in late 18th century England in the care of her father's uncle, Lord Chief Justice William Murray (Lord Mansfield), alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. Born in the West Indies to a black slave mother and a white Royal Navy officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay, Dido's father claimed her as his child and sought to give her the best life possible. “In these walls,” he told a young Dido, “yours will be life equal to my blood.” Despite many qualms about how her race will affect her future and society's treatment of her, her great-uncle and aunt raised her as Lady Elizabeth's peer and, even, sister.

Living... in Kenwood House in a village outside London. Although she is welcomed as a family member and given the same aristocratic upbringing as her cousin, upon coming of age, it becomes clear that she still faces restrictions due to her race. For instance, she’s considered too high in rank to dine with servants but too low to dine with her family when visitors are around. Dido soon realizes that the outside world will not be as accepting as her family has been.

Profession... heiress. After her father dies and leaves her a sum of 2,000 pounds a year, Dido is essentially set for life, at least financially. Her cousin, who is white and thus technically of a higher status, reveals how lucky Dido is to have her inheritance: “You shan't be at the caprice of some silly sir and his fortune. The rest of us haven't the choice... We are but their property.” Dido's income puts her in an ambiguous position, though, wherein she has much more freedom than other women because of her money, but is still considered beneath them because of her race.

Interests... slave-related politics. Described by Lord Mansfield as “very sharp,” Dido delves into the world of politics when she begins helping him with his correspondence. Coming across the ongoing and controversial “Zong Massacre” case, which questioned the murder of slaves, Dido seeks help from a clergyman and potential lawyer, John Davinier, to both understand the case and rouse interest in the morality of slavery.

Relationship Status... single. For a woman with her status, marriage – and especially, love – seems out of the question. Lady Mansfield remarks, “Any gentleman of good breeding would be unlikely to form a serious attachment to Dido. And a man without would lower her position in society.” However, she captures the interests of both Oliver Ashford and John Davinier, suggesting that perhaps Belle's prospects are not as dire as everyone believes.

Challenge... understanding her place in society. Branded as “Lord Mansfield's infamous mulatto,” Belle forever straddles the line between the aristocratic status that her father gave her and the skin color that her mother passed on to her. As her race begins to play a conspicuous role when she gets older, Belle has to find a way to reconcile the two.

Personality... headstrong and introspective. While Lady Mansfield may dismiss discrimination by saying, “Such are the rules and you know them well,” Belle seeks to change the rules. In doing so, she also has to look within to determine what power she wields in a world that wants to keep her down, and how to rise above the institution on which her aristocratic upbringing was founded.

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