Race, Money, and Marriage in ‘Belle’

I saw ‘Belle‘ over the weekend and loved it. Based on a true story, the film has neatly tied loose ends and liberal embellishments that give the story an Austen-esque feeling, but it’s more than just another period piece.

I recommend reading two great background pieces before seeing the movie to get a better sense of who Dido Elizabeth Belle was and what makes her story so remarkable:

My thoughts on the movie contain some plot spoilers, so feel free to come back after you have seen the movie.

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The Young Napoleon of Finance

I’ve been reading The Richest Woman in America, a biography of Hetty Green and her money-centered life during the Gilded Age in America. I’m just about a third of the way in, and Ms. Green is already showing her true colors – and by that, I mean an extreme obsession with money.

This obsession is not unique to Ms. Green. In the latter half of the 19th century, there was a widespread American fascination with getting rich quick. The Gold Rush propelled people west to find their fortunes, and speculators were flooding the new and evolving financial market. I came across an 1887 article by Henry Clews, a notable financier of the era, where he writes that “every fool who has a few hundred dollars” tried their luck on the market, most without success (p. 415).

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The Guinness Student

Guinness.  As a beer, its rich, dark color is instantly recognizable. As a company, Guinness transformed its product into an international success story…by using statistical analysis.

Grab a pint and take a look:

Enjoyed in Dingle, Ireland
We enjoyed a few pints in Ireland this summer.

Early Brewing

Prior to the late nineteenth century, brewing was no exact science. If it looked good, smelled good, and had the right consistency, it was fine to drink. Brewing was not a large industrial enterprise, rather public houses were often tied to one brewer’s product and the beers were fairly local.

As late as the 1860s there were only a handful of registered brewing companies and the five or six on the London Stock Exchange rarely got attention (Payne, 1967). Yet there was such a transformation in the late 1800s that, by 1905, Guinness had become the 10th largest British company.

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