OF THE BABY NAME BELINDA
Belinda is the heroine in Alexander Pope’s satirical epic poem, “The Rape of the Lock”, first published in 1712. It takes the theft of a lock of Belinda’s hair by an admirer without her permission and makes the event into a saga of mock significance. Pope, of course, is satirizing social conventions and, reportedly, trying to amend relations between the two “real-life” families whose members were involved, nonetheless, a twenty-first century feminine sensibility has to have trouble with the work. From introductory letter through five cantos, Belinda (and womankind) is the object of ill-conceived scorn and condescension by the poet. She is beautiful, of course, as what other virtue has any worth without that? She is vain, as well, and entirely devoted to her toilette and the pursuit of social pleasures. When she wins the card game at the party, she has the nerve to feel proud about triumphing over the males. When the Baron steals the titular tress, Belinda is extravagantly outraged, and is made an object of fun for this as well. Pope’s admonition that “modern ladies” “…let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance” comes across as an eighteenth century version of “Oh, chill out, girl!” The beauteous Belinda may be as superficial as her society demands, but she has, indeed, been violated and has every right to be angry. In our opinion, she is at her best when expressing her righteous anger and indignation; such insult is not to be taken lightly and is hardly excuse for demeaning her again – the proverbial adding of insult to injury.
“Johnny” Belinda is the title character in the 1948 movie, Johnny Belinda, adapted for the screen from the play of the same name by Elmer Blaney Harris. Jane Wyman (the one-time wife of the late President Ronald Reagan) played the role and won an Academy Award for it. This is a real tear-jerker with a happy ending, and is said to be based upon a true story. Poor young Johnny Belinda, whose mother died giving birth to her, is a woman who is both deaf and mute. She lives with her father and aunt (both of whom resent her for her part in her mother’s death) on their hardscrabble farm in eastern Canada. Largely ignored by everyone, Belinda is given a new lease on life by the arrival in town of Dr. Richardson, who believes in her innate intelligence and teaches her sign language, all the while falling in love with her himself. Stella, the doctor’s secretary, has feelings for him as well, and is jealous and resentful. A townsman, McCormick, rapes and impregnates Belinda, and the townspeople all think she is pregnant by Dr. Richardson. The good doctor, knowing defeat when he sees it, leaves town to establish a new practice, intending to come back for Belinda and the baby. Not so fast – the rapist, who has since married Stella, takes it into his head that he wants his own child back. In short order he kills Belinda’s father, persuades the town that Belinda is unfit to raise the child and comes with Stella to claim him. Belinda, trying to save herself and her baby, shoots and kills McCormick and goes on trial for murder. Whew! During the trial, Stella, her old feelings for the doctor having softened her, admits that McCormick told her he had fathered Belinda’s child, and Belinda is set free to a happy future. Quite a soap opera, but in the capable performance of the movie’s actors, every bit is plausible, and we are left rejoicing in Belinda’s hard-earned good fortune, at last.
Belinda is a character in John Vanbrugh’s comedy, The Provoked Wife, first performed in London in 1697, and considered a shocker of its time. Belinda is the niece of the titular wife, Lady Brute, who is trapped in a loveless marriage to a drunken “brute”. She considers both divorce and an extramarital affair, and discusses the options with Belinda at great length. Belinda, a pretty young coquette with suitors of her own, is a delightful accomplice to her young aunt, encouraging her in every way. Eventually the crisis is resolved, and Restoration audiences were able to convince themselves that virtue was, well, restored, but our Belinda is a daring and amusing precursor to modern women. The independently minded Belinda is set to marry Heartfree, and we only hope that his name is not truly a description of his character, because we want the best for Belinda!
Belinda is the title character of Maria Edgeworth’s 1801 novel, Belinda, a seventeen-year-old girl who goes to live with Lady Delacour, who believes herself to be a dying woman. The lady takes Belinda under her wing, instructing her in the ways of the world, and becoming more and more affectionate toward the girl. Belinda, on her part, becomes very fond of Lady Delacourt, all the while acutely observing the vagaries of the marriage and the society in which they operate. As usual of the times, Belinda must make an acceptable marriage in order to thrive, and her various suitors and their foibles form a large part of the narrative. Belinda is a stalwart young lady of virtue, who rides the waves of misunderstandings imposed upon her by the author, and manages, ala Catherine Bennet, to make a good and solid marriage based upon a meeting of the minds and souls, rather than on the bare necessity of wedding for its own sake. In her own words, her intended is “a most uncommonly pleasing young man”. And as if that weren’t enough, our Belinda also is instrumental in reviving the fading affections of Lord and Lady Delacour!