A Very Literary Christmas – Part I

This week marked the 240th anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth. She was born on December 16 1775, on a snowy day in the southern English county of Hampshire.

Her birthday isn’t the only Austen-related anniversary this month — JA’s novel Emma was published in December 200 years ago. As Christmas is fast approaching, I thought it would be fun to explore how Jane Austen would have celebrated the festive season.

Jane Austen lived during the Georgian era of British history, which I wrote about here during my Between the Pages series. A Georgian Christmas would have some recognizable similarities with popular Christmas traditions today, but equally there were aspects that are different to modern eyes.

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“Belle” — class and racial politics in the Georgian era

The recently released movie, Belle, is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was raised by her great-uncle in the privileged setting of upper-class Georgian society. It is a costume drama and there are stately homes, pretty dresses and carefully landscaped gardens aplenty. However, it is an unusual costume drama because Dido was a wealthy mixed-race woman at a time when black or mixed-race aristocrats were almost non-existent.

Photo credit: Wikipedia (public domain image)

Photo credit: Wikipedia (public domain image)

The director of Belle, Amma Asante, was inspired by this portrait, which shows Dido and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, painted in 1779. The painting is extraordinary for its time because black or mixed-race subjects in Georgian paintings were rarely portrayed as equal to white subjects. Asante says that “Everything you see in the film, the vision I have created, comes from the painting” (quote source: Ham & High).

I saw the film last week and while I am always a fan of costume dramas, unlike many period drama films this isn’t a typical love story. There is a romance but that is mostly eclipsed by the focus on issues of class, gender and racial politics of the time in which Dido lived. Slavery wasn’t abolished in Britain until 1807 and the film is set in the 1780s, a time of great legal significance in the battle between those who opposed slavery and those who supported it. Belle is a costume drama with a difference!

Friday round-up

Here’s what I saw on the internet this week, in between my study sessions for upcoming exams:

News of an upcoming movie, based on a true story and set in England during the early 1800s, about the mixed-race daughter, Dido Belle, of an admiral in the Royal Navy. Dido was raised by her wealthy great-uncle and his wife in their aristocratic country home. Despite the privileged class of society in which she was brought up, she was restricted by the colour of her skin and shunned by people around her.

Here is an article which explains her story in greater detail: Dido Belle: the slave’s daughter who lived in Georgian elegance. I am looking forward to seeing the movie. Dido had a unique and fascinating life; I don’t know of any other mixed-race or black people who were members of the upper classes during a time when racism was the norm.

In other news, I wasn’t expecting to see breakdancing monks on my Facebook feed this week! The video in the link is fun to watch!

Finally, do you live in/near New York City? Fancy finding out which neighborhood is the most rat-infested? Check out the interactive rat information portal! I found the name of this very amusing when I heard about it: the name of the portal makes it sound like it is supplying information to the rodents themselves. 😉

Have a fun Friday! Have you spotted anything interesting and/or amusing on the interwebz this week?