Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, by Paula Byrne – A Review

Laurel Ann’s review of the book “Belle” by Paula Byrne – I highly recommend it…


Belle by Paula Byrne 2014 x 200From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

Commissioned by the producers of the new movie Belle, acclaimed biographer Paula Byrne aims to reveal the true story behind the main characters in the movie: Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an African slave, and her great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (1705-93) and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice is both a companion volume to the popular movie and a time capsule into the turbulent abolition movement in the late eighteenth-century England.

Inspired by the 1779 portrait of Dido and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, screenwriter Misan Sagay has written a compelling story based on facts she first learned of while visiting the 2007, Slavery and Justice Exhibition. Dido and Elizabeth were Lord Mansfield’s wards and raised together at…

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Jane Austen’s “Imaginary” Portrait ~ Coming to BBC Two

UPDATE!: you can follow the latest developments on this Austen Portrait at Paula Byrne’s twitter account:!/austenportrait


News Alert!

In March of this year, I wrote a post on the auction of an “imaginary” portrait of Jane Austen, one of the portraits that Deirdre Le Faye wrote about in her article for the Jane Austen Society Report 2007, pp. 42-52.  This portrait sold at the Bonham’s March 29, 2011 auction and the image copyright became the right of the new owner. 

Dr. Paula Byrne, author of a number of Austen scholarly articles, her book Jane Austen and the Theatre [fabulous read!], and her forthcoming biography of Austen [The Real Jane Austen], is  going to broadcast “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?”  on BBC Two on December 26 about the validity of this portrait, and if this illusive image might indeed be Jane Austen.  Here is the press release on the upcoming broadcast …  and an illustration of the portrait, with permission of Dr. Byrne.

[Image from JAS Report for 2007.  The copyright of the portrait now belongs to Paula Byrne.]

From the BBC:

BBC Two follows academic’s investigation into possible
unknown portrait of Jane Austen

This month, BBC Two follows a British academic as she unveils a portrait that may be one of the only remaining images of Jane Austen. In a one-off special, Martha Kearney follows the search to find out whether an unusual drawn portrait really does capture the face of the well-loved author.

Will the picture stand up to forensic analysis and scrutiny by art historians and Austen experts? And if it does, how might it change our perception of one of Britain’s most revered writers? Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (9pm, Mon 26 Dec, BBC Two) follows the investigation behind one of the literary world’s most exciting art works.

Janice Hadlow, Controller, BBC Two:  “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? will sit at the heart of our Christmas schedule and will be a fascinating chance for the BBC Two audience to delve deeper into the life of one of Britain’s best-loved authors.”

Jane Austen is one of the most celebrated writers of all time but with only a rough sketch by her sister we have just an inkling of what she may have looked like. Austen academic and biographer Dr Paula Byrne thinks that this may be about to change. She believes that she’s discovered a portrait of the author that has been lost for nearly two centuries and may offer fascinating new insight into how Jane once lived and portrayed herself to the world.

Paula Byrne: “If this really is an authentic portrait of Jane Austen, it has the potential to change our image of her for ever — instead of the prim spinster of Cassandra’s unfinished sketch, here is a professional writer at the height of her powers.”

Martha follows Paula’s search to gather as much evidence as possible in her quest to prove that she really may hold one of the rarest literary portraits of all time. From eighteenth century costume experts to the editor of Jane Austen’s letters, Paula must interrogate as many experts as possible to build a case for why this really might be Jane. After months of research, she presents the portrait to three of the world’s most prominent Austen experts. Will she be able to convince them that it really is as authentic as it seems?

Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? airs at 9pm, Monday 26th December, BBC Two and is one of two films commissioned by the BBC Arts department to celebrate the life and work of one of our greatest authors this Christmas.

The programme was commissioned by Janice Hadlow (Controller, BBC Two) and Mark Bell (Commissioning Editor for Arts) and will be executive produced by Liz Hartford for Seneca Productions and Adam Barker for BBC Knowledge. The director is Neil Crombie.

from: Victoria Asare-Archer, Publicist, BBC

You can read more about it at Dr. Byrne’s website here
But alas! we on this side of the pond, who must live without the BBC Two, will just have to wait …

Further Reading:

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, at Jane Austen in Vermont