Sunday, 15 June 2014

Jane Austen Quote of the Week 270

"Belle" movie poster
There's a movie I need to see before it disappears from my local theater. "Belle", directed by Amma Assante and featuring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the main heroine. The movie is set in the 18th century Georgian England on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804), the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and Maria Belle, an enslaved woman of African origin. Dido Elizabeth Belle was in turn the grand niece of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who later became a Lord Chief Justice.

I've always admired Gugu after watching her in Lost in Austen and in a Marple episode (of which title I can't remember). I remember thinking about her in Lost in Austen, that she was an amazing actress, but it wouldn't be possible to see her in a period drama. And lo and behold, I was wrong. And I'm so happy I was wrong.

But it returns me to Jane Austen, and how eerie is that Belle actually was Austen's contemporary. Belle was about the same age as Jane Austen when the former died (43 years old, Jane died when she was 42 years old). I wonder if Jane ever heard of the great niece of Chief Justice Murray. And would it be too far fetched to guess whether Jane's novel "Mansfield Park" was inspired by the Mansfields?

The painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and cousin Elizabeth Murray ca 1779 (formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany)

At any rate, it got me digging Mansfield Park to find a quote related to slavery. It's difficult to find a verbatim one; but I found this conversation between Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price:

[Edmund:] “Your uncle is disposed to be pleased with you in every respect; and I only wish you would talk to him more. You are one of those who are too silent in the evening circle.”

[Fanny:] “But I do talk to him more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?”

[Edmund:] “I did — and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.”

[Fanny:] “And I longed to do it — but there was such a dead silence! And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word, or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like — I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself off at their expense, by showing a curiosity and pleasure in his information which he must wish his own daughters to feel.”

Mansfield Park was published in May 1814, seven years after the Slave Trade Act in 1807. I am inclined to think that Miss Austen understood that slavery was still a sensitive topic at that time, hence her hidden messages about her anti-slavery views in Mansfield Park. Of that topic alone, some scholars have reviewed it rather extensively (see this for an example).

1 comment:

Linda Fern said...

It always amazes me how the things we run into in our lives today can relate back to Jane and her times, some 200 years ago.

Yrs aff'ly,
Linda the Librarian