Between Privilege and Poverty

Dido Belle

 

In the movie, Belle, the aspect of power structure and relations is evident throughout, especially in the depictions of rites of passage and cultural art and symbols in art in British life.

Belle is a film set in the years 1769-1781 in Britain when the country was a colonial empire and leader in trade. In this movie, the plot centers on Britain as a slave trade capital.

Belle is based on the true-life story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, who was the daughter of Sir John Lindsay and an African slave, Maria Belle.  Sir Lindsay placed Dido in his uncle’s care, and left for the West Indies, as he was a captain in the King’s Royal Navy.  Lord Mansfield and his wife raised Dido and her cousin, Elizabeth.  Lord Mansfield was also the Lord Chief Justice of England.  He presided over the court appeal case of the Zong slave ship whose captain and crew threw 132 diseased and dying slaves over the ship’s side to drown in the ocean.  The owners of the ship wanted to collect insurance for the human cargo that perished at sea.

There is cultural change that comes about in England through the Zong case before the highest court in England with Lord Chief Justice Mansfield presiding.  The case consisted of whether the insurance companies should compensate the owners/traders of the Zong ship for the loss of human cargo.  The horrid case drew much attention through strong, vocal protestations of local abolitionists that spread the news of the case to men of high position – anyone of influence.  By 1807, a law abolishing slave trade was enacted (Understanding Slavery, 2011).  It later led to the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 (Gates, Jr., 2014).

Power Structure

The movie depicts power structure in the examples of Lord Mansfield and his family, as well as the Ashfords, who are nobility, or aristocrats.  The aristocrats, or wealthy landowners, had the power at that time, besides the highest power of the monarchy (Smitha, 2015).  These societies were patrilineal.

With this power structure, Dido lived within it, hovering between nobility and servant.  Her white bloodline elevated her above servant and commoner, but her African slave bloodline put her below a commoner.  So, for Dido, she was not permitted to dine with her family when dinner guests were present, and she had no coming out in the rites of passage the young English women of nobility normally did.

An example of this was near the beginning of the film, when Dido became a young lady, she did not understand her position in the family and society.  Because of not being permitted to eat or join at the dinner table when guests were present, and the looks Lady Ashford gave her while visiting, Dido hated her African slave bloodline.  In a poignant scene where she smacks her fists on her chest and neck and rakes her hands over her cheeks, it showed she hated her skin color, hence, hated her African heritage.  Also, because she was a woman, Dido was considered lower than men, and did not have much independence.

Dido had fallen in love with John Davinier, but she could not pursue it because they came from different social classes.  Mr. Davinier, the son of a reverend, was a passionate man with the desire to become a lawyer or judge.  He was an activist and abolitionist.  Dido and John shared the same beliefs about abolishing slavery and agreed that the owners of the Zong should not be compensated for throwing a large portion of the slaves into the ocean to die.  John also treated Dido as an equal, and saw the beauty in her through her mother’s lineage.

Oliver Ashford, who had wanted to marry Dido, did not recognize Dido’s mother’s contribution to Dido’s features.  He found Dido a unique and pretty specimen, in which he could “overlook” her mother’s African bloodline and heritage because her father had given her such “loveliness and privilege” (Jones & Asante, 2013).  Although, he thought he was being complimentary to Dido, it was really an insult to her.

Rites of Passage

In the film, a rite of passage consisted of English women being presented to social groups of their same class once they transitioned from a girl to womanhood.  This was a common ritual in the upper classes of European society.  The transition is common in all cultures in which a rite of passage happens when one is between two positions.  The person is no longer part of the old position and not yet part of the new one (International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008).

In the noble English culture, endogamy was practiced.  Women were to be matched with a suitable husband from the same social class through the decision of her father or male equivalent.  As was said above, because Dido lived in a patrilineal society and culture, it was the man who made decisions and took care of the woman financially and in all things.  In Belle, it was Dido’s cousin, Elizabeth, who “came out” for this purpose of matching her up with a husband.

Dido’s finances were unique in that, although she was illegitimate, her father left her a great amount of money after his death.  He died when Dido was a young woman.  She was given 2000 pounds a year, which was a lot of money at that time.  So, with this inheritance, Lord Mansfield and Lady Mansfield did not have to worry about Dido marrying into a social class, because they felt a nobleman wouldn’t marry her because she was a mulatto, and she would shame the family marrying a commoner or servant below her noble status.  Because of this, Dido did not go through the rite of passage of being presented to society to be matched with a husband.

Elizabeth Murray, Dido’s cousin, did not receive an inheritance from her father, even though she was legitimate.  Her father gave his money to his other children and new wife.  So, Elizabeth was at the mercy of the man Lord Mansfield and Lady Mansfield chose for her.  Her father was also a naval officer, and deposited his daughter with Lord Mansfield before Dido arrived.

Cultural Art and Symbolism

The portraits of aristocrats were quite prevalent at the time in England.  The many portraits shown in the Kenwood home of Dido were of her relatives, and many of them showed a nobleman standing and a black servant kneeling below him.  This symbolized both the status and inequality of the two men.  The nobleman was seen as higher in importance and social status.  The black servant had little social status.

The film’s producer/director, and its writer, were inspired in creating their movie by the portrait of Dido and her cousin, Elizabeth.  The painting portrays Elizabeth seated on a bench reaching out her right hand and touching Dido’s left arm, who stood near by, smiling with a finger to her cheek, and a basket of fruit in her left arm.  This was a powerful picture that symbolized equality.  Dido was not kneeling before her cousin, but standing next to her.  The portrait hung in the house until 1922.  It is now in the Scone Palace in Scotland where Lord Mansfield was born (Jones & Asante, 2013).

In conclusion, this analysis of the power structure, rites of passage, and cultural and art symbolism in England enlightened me to the enculturation of England’s aristocratic societies and how power and money influenced trade and treatment of African Americans and those in lower classes.  It taught me what life had been like for a mulatto woman in eighteenth century England and the environment in which she lived — a patrilineal culture and society and its racial boundaries.  Many societies are still patrilineal, and the effects of racism and sexism are still around today, regardless of the eradication of slavery and the progression of the women’s movement.   With this knowledge, I am able to better understand cultures around the world – how they came about and evolved over time — and hope to contribute in a positive way to the progression of equality for all people.

 

PS: If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it as soon as you can. One of the best of the 21st century in script, acting, classiness, and storyline.

 

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Works Cited
Understanding Slavery.  (2011). The Zong case study.  Understanding Slavery. Retrieved fromhttp://www.understandingslavery.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=373&Itemid=236
Gates, Jr., H.  (2014).  Who Was the Real Dido Elizabeth Belle?  The Root.  Retrieved from http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2014/05/did_belle_really_help_end_slavery_in_england.1.html
Smitha, F.  (2015).  Britain in the mid 1700s.  Macrohistory and World Timeline.  Retrieved from http://www.fsmitha.com/h3/h29-fr.htm
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  (2008).  Rites of Passage.  Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.  Retrieved from http://find.galegroup.com/gic/infomark.do?&idigest=fb720fd31d9036c1ed2d1f3a0500fcc2&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GIC&docId=CX3045302291&source=gale&userGroupName=itsbtrial&version=1.0
Jones, D. (Producer), & Asante, A. (Director).  (2013).  Belle [DVD].  United States.  Bankside Films.

 

 

 

Settling into Hope and Joy

home sweet home pic

My family’s move from Pennsylvania to Colorado two weeks ago was both exhausting and stressful, but also anticipation of what lie ahead for us.

When we reached our new home, we entered it, excited to see how much the video my husband had taken of the place looked compared to seeing it in person.

It was even better in person.

And the unpacking started right away. And it continues still as I write this.

Thankfully, we finally got our internet hooked up, and I can catch up on news stories, people’s comments on social media, and blog posts.

Also, it gives me the opportunity to write a post myself. I feel as it it’s been many months since I’ve written anything here, but in reality, it hasn’t been that long.

I’m enjoying the beautiful Colorado sunshine, blue skies, and gorgeous landscape. The Rocky Mountains never get old for me or my husband.

autumn in colorado

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is home, full of life, love, joy, and lots of sunshine. The 300+ days of sunshine (counting partly sunny) always lift my spirits.

Just a little while ago, I opened up my novel, Passage of Promise,  in Word, and read the first chapter and the beginning of chapter two.

Last time I read it a couple of months ago, I felt I needed to fix it up one more time before sending it to my editor. This time, I thought, “Wow. This is pretty good.” I’m glad the hard work I put into this story for the past four years has blossomed to what it is today.

Hopefully, I’ll be sending my manuscript to my editor soon–when she can fit my novel into her schedule.

I’ve entered the online critiquing group site and browsed the stories posted. A few of my regular critique partners still have their chapters up for review and coming up in the next week to two weeks.

It takes a bit to readjust my focus on looking over people’s work and putting on my editing/critiquing hat, but I’m hoping to get back into it, if not tonight, definitely tomorrow.

In between getting back into the writing and reading groove, I’m working on getting my younger son into a high school and getting involved in my home church, where my church family has been since we lived in Colorado Springs from 2007 to 2013.

There is so much to look forward to and so much to do, and that makes life great.

When you know your talent and your purpose in life (at least I think I do…took me about 30 years, haha), the path you walk toward is much easier to navigate and trek.

make your life a masterpiece quote by brian tracy

As crisp autumn continues to sweep across the rocky landscape in which I live, I think about how blessed I am and imagine my novel, Passage of Promise, published before Christmas. God willing, it’ll happen.

 

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Holy Pascha

Christ's Resurrection

(Reblogged for this year’s Pascha, April 28, 2019)

Let God Arise!  Let His enemies be scattered!

When you take the journey with Christ from His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, praised and honored through the laying down of palms, through the grueling walk to Golgotha, wailing with His Mother, to experiencing the thunderous, earth-trembling from His death, His descent into Hades, breaking the chains and releasing those waiting in the tombs, preaching to those who did not know Him, to witnessing His glorious Resurrection, told to us by an angel at His Tomb, your body, mind, and soul are greatly and positively affected.

Your body aches from the hours of services, for which three quarters of the time you’re standing.  Your mind is filled with the readings of his journey and what it all means.  Your heart is torn into pieces listening, watching, and reading of the scourging, mockings, spitting, and especially the words “His blood be on us and on our children.” Lord, have mercy.  *doing the sign of the cross*  That line always gets you.

swinging censor

You take in the sweet smell of incense that reminds you of the realm of God’s Kingdom, the prayers of the Saints, and that you and your brothers and sisters in the nave of His Church are with Him through all of it.  You’ve heard these passages hundreds of times, but something new and profound hits you every year this is read aloud.  This time, you’re wishing you were the thief on the cross, hoping, praying, pleading, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” and you’re dying to hear Him say, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

You weep when you hear His Mother, the Theotokos, wail and say to Him as He plods to His voluntary crucifixion, “”Where are you going, my Child? Why do you travel along so fast? Would there perhaps be another wedding in Cana, and you hurry there, to turn for them water into wine? Can I not come with You, my Child? Or tarry with you? Speak to me a word; You, Who are the Word. Pass me not by in silence, You, Who kept me pure. For You are my Son and my God.”  In your humanity and being a mother of two sons, the words slice through you, cutting you deeply, and you feel Mary’s pain.

But then the Panagia tells Him to hurry and rise on the third day so that she can see Him glorified:  “O my Son, where has the beauty of Your form vanished?  I cannot bear to see You unjustly crucified; hasten, therefore, and rise up, that I too may behold Your Resurrection from the dead on the third day.”  You realize that the Theotokos knew and understood immediately what Christ had been saying before His crucifixion that He’d rise on the third day, whereas all but one of the Apostles fled in confusion, fear, and sorrow.  Beloved Apostle John stood by the Cross with Christ’s Mother and the other women.

Pictured below:

Christ crucified.  Holy Thursday evening is the Twelve Gospels Service that follows Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.  Our bishop was present for this service, so instead of being three hours, it was four.  This night’s service is the longest, but this was the longest I’ve ever encountered, but it didn’t matter.  When you experience such profound, glorious, and heart-wrenching events, you’re undone, heart, soul, body, mind, but in a good way.

Christ crucified Annunciation GOC

This is the kouvouklion — Christ’s Tomb — that the ladies of my church decorate each year ( took this picture personally on Friday.  It is from my church).  Gorgeous.  It is carried around the church Friday evenings for the Lamentations service, where we join Joseph of Arimathea in carrying Christ’s body to the new Tomb.

kouvouklion Annunciation GOC Holy Week 2018

Video taken by me at our “home” parish back in Colorado Springs, Colorado, (2011) that gives you a glimpse into Holy Saturday morning’s Divine Liturgy where Christ descends into Hades and destroys its chains and gates and opens the tombs.  The pounding we made (and wish all Orthodox Churches did this) is to symbolize the breaking open of the gates and chains and the tombs.  The priest throws basil leaves and flowers symbolizing Christ’s victory and that He is King and Lord. (It isn’t unusual that after the two and a half hour service the night before that this service is less attended, which is unfortunate because it’s such a beautiful and joyous experience).

Holy Saturday evening’s Resurrection Service is held around midnight with a vigil and then the Divine Liturgy.

Here’s a video from an Orthodox Church of a few years ago that shows what happens around midnight when the priest announces, “Come receive the Light,” which the candle represents Christ’s descent into Hades and darkness and through His Resurrection, the Light has come into the world and has trampled down Death by His death.  After His entrance, you, along with your brothers and sisters in Christ, say joyously and triumphantly, “Christ is Risen!” and will chant this verse over and over again that early Sunday morning and the next several Sundays:

Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down death by death, 

and upon those in the tombs,

bestowing Life.

The Holy Fire descends on the Tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem every Holy Saturday.  The Greek Orthodox Patriarch receives the Holy Fire that miraculously lights his bundle of thirty-three candles each year).  Here’s a video of this mystical and miraculous event from today:

At the end of the liturgy, you receive a red egg that symbolizes the blood of Christ, and Life.  You gather with your family and brethren in the hall for some food and drink, and crack eggs with them.  The cracking of the eggs symbolizes the cracking open of the tombs.  If your egg survives the cracking contest, you are blessed.

cracking red eggs Orthodox Pascha.jpg

It’s a blessing to return home each night smelling of sweet, heavenly incense, and body wrought from worshiping Christ God in body and spirit.

On Pascha Sunday, you attend the Agape Vespers Service where the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection is read in several different languages.  The most common languages spoken are English, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Albanian, Spanish, German, French, and sometimes Japanese and Swahili.  Others also may be said if there are parishioners who know that language or come from the country that speaks that particular language.  You enjoy hearing the Good News in many tongues, showing this message is universal.

You enjoy a Paschal picnic of lamb and all other types of meat, etc., and Pascha sweet bread, called Tsoureki in Greek.  We got one this year from the women’s monastery a few hours away:

Greek Pascha sweet bread.jpg

 

Christ is Risen!  Truly He is Risen!