Lona Manning Interviews John Bellingham from A Marriage of Attachment
Lona Manning’s newly-published novel,A Marriage of Attachment, is the sequel to A Contrary Wind: a variation on Mansfield Park.Lona Manning takes Fanny Price, Jane Austen’s most under-rated heroine, and sends her on a series of new adventures that help her grow and find herself. After running away from Mansfield Park to become a governess, (as related in A Contrary Wind), Fanny teaches sewing to poor working-class girls in London, while trying to forget her first love, Edmund Bertram, who is trapped in a disastrous marriage with the conniving Mary Crawford. While fending off an unwanted suitor, Fanny finds herself attracted to the writer, William Gibson. He and Fanny, together with her brother John, discover a plot that threatens someone at the highest levels of government. Meanwhile, Fanny’s brother William fights slavery on the high seas while longing for the girl he loves.
Readers have praised Manning’s prose style for its faithfulness to Austen’s time.
Filled with romance, suspense and even danger, A Marriage of Attachment takes the familiar characters from Mansfield Parkon a new journey. The story includes a number of real-life Regency-era persons including Navy commanders, politicians, and a disgruntled businessman named John Bellingham.
The London Gentlemen’s Observer, May 12, 1811
A Most Extraordinary Encounter
We believe our readers will take no uncommon degree of interest in this relation of an interview which occurred in the offices of our paper last Friday, just at the close of business.
Your correspondent was preparing to end his labours for the day, and was arranging the papers on his desk, when a visitor was ushered into the office.
The gentlemen was somewhat above the middle height, with prepossessing features, of which a handsome aquiline nose was notably prominent. His countenance was both tranquil and unassuming and his address polite.
“My name is John Bellingham,” the visitor announced, while taking the seat which I indicated to him. “I am three and forty years of age. I am—rather, sir, I was—an insurance broker and a merchant, and while much of my youth was spent in London, a greater part of my adult life has been spent beyond our shores, at the distant Russian port of Archangel, and at St. Petersburg, for reasons which I now beg to unfold, in the certainty that my story will rouse both your sympathy and your indignation on my behalf.”
“Pray continue, sir, but I must add, I request that you give me, in the fewest possible words, the gist of your tale and if I deem it to be of interest to our readers, I shall obtain fuller details from you.”
“Sir! My story is a tale of injustice and betrayal. You behold sir, a man who has spent no fewer than five years in a Russian prison cell, the victim of the venality and corruption of both Russian and British officials.”
“Hold, sir,” I said, reaching for a scrap of paper and a quill. “You contend that you were imprisoned without cause?”
“A Russian merchant accused me of clandestinely informing his insurance company that he had committed fraud in regard to one of his ships. With the connivance of some corrupt officials, he had me thrown into prison on charges on unpaid debts— a complete falsehood.”
Bellingham leaned forward and spoke in a low, urgent tone.
“A full year—a full year, sir, went by, before I obtained my release.”
“But I thought you said you had spent five years in Russian prisons, sir?”
My visitor nodded. “Upon my initial release, I travelled to Saint Petersburg and endeavored to bring impeachment proceedings against the Russian official who had so barbarously arranged for my imprisonment. The Russian authorities returned me to prison.”
“Perhaps, sir, it was imprudent to antagonize the officials of a foreign government in this fashion, however much you were ill-treated. After all, you were not in England, but in a foreign country, and subject to the whims and caprices of a despotic Tsar.”
“So my own wife often argued. She begged that we would leave Russia forthwith. But what sort of man would I be, if I meekly accepted the horrendous injustice meted out to me?”
I shrugged. “A free one?”
Bellingham looked annoyed, and I added quickly, “Tell me, Mr. Bellingham, during your travails, did you seek the assistance of the British ambassador in Russia?”
I hastily revised my initial impression that Mr. Bellingham was of a mild disposition, when I saw the turn of his countenance at the mention of the British Ambassador.
“Lord Leveson-Gower,” he said slowly and with great disdain. “You may be sure, that while I was freezing and starving in a prison cell, His Excellency the British Ambassador enjoyed every comfort in his mansion in St. Petersburg. No, His Excellency did nothing for me, nothing at all. That is why, sir, I now seek financial redress from the British government.”
Mr. Bellingham reached into his waistcoat and withdrew a bulky pamphlet, which he placed with great deliberation upon my desk.
“Here, sir, is the memorandum which I have drawn up and presented to the Prime Minister’s Office, the Home Secretary, the Privy Council, and the Foreign Office, but to no avail.”
“Do I understand you correctly, sir? Do you expect the government to obtain compensation on your behalf from the Russians? On what grounds, sir, if what was done to you, was done in accordance with their customs and barbaric laws?”
“I perceive, sir, that you are determined to close your eyes and ears to an Englishman seeking simple justice. No doubt your natural servility, your dependence on the patronage of the great, accounts for your cowardice.”
With another man, I might have taken umbrage at such a slight, but I now had the dawning realization that I was speaking with a man in the grip of a monomania—he could only see the affair from his own point of view, nor could he leave the matter alone, no matter how often well-meaning people so advised him.
“Very well, Mr. Bellingham. You say you have been to every public office in London. What, for example, did the Foreign Office say to you?”
My visitor smiled slowly, and I felt a shiver of unease.
“The Foreign Office advised me, that they would do nothing for me, and when I asked them what, in the name of heaven and justice, was I to do, they replied–and I quote– ‘You are at liberty to take whatever measures you think proper!’”
I thought to myself that this must be a polite government euphemism for a most insulting injunction. But Mr. Bellingham appeared to regard the flippant statement as some kind of carte blanche.
“’Whatever measures’? Sir, what measures do you contemplate?”
“I shall force the government to give me a hearing. I will inevitably be given the platform they have so long denied me. I will be able to present my case to His Majesty’s Attorney-General, a judge, a jury of my peers, and the public. Of course no jury will convict me in a cause so righteous.”
“A judge? A jury? Mr. Bellingham, I trust that I have misunderstood you—surely you are not contemplating an act which will lead to your arrest. What do you intend to do?”
My visitor smiled and rose from his seat. “You will hear of it yourself, sir, in due course. Pray, retain my memorandum.”
He bowed and swiftly withdrew.
I was perplexed, and not a little agitated. But what ought I to do? He would not confide in me, and there would be no opportunity of speaking to any officials at the Foreign Office that day, as the hours of business had concluded.
I resolved to put the matter aside for the week-end, as many other matters claimed my attention, and I fully intended to send a note to a contact at the Foreign Office in the following week.
But events, as my readers know, moved more swiftly than I. I shall ever reproach myself for not acting upon my suspicions in a more urgent fashion, but on the other hand, no-one could have predicted the exact form in which Mr. Bellingham took revenge against the government.
Lona Manning is the author of two historical fiction novels, A Contrary Wind and A Marriage of Attachment. She has also written numerous true crime articles, which are available at www.crimemagazine.com. Manning is a contributor to the short-story anthology, Dangerous To Know: Jane Austen’s Gentlemen Rakes and Rogues. She has worked as a non-profit administrator, a vocational instructor, a market researcher, and a speechwriter for politicians. She currently teaches English as a Second Language. She and her husband now divide their time between mainland China and Canada. You can follow Lona at www.lonamanning.ca or at her Facebook page, A Contrary Wind.