MARY DIANA DODS by Betty T. Bennett


A Gentleman and a Scholar
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Here, Bennett (Dean, American Univ.) recounts how she pursued the identity of some obscure names for a footnote in Vol. I of her recent three-volume edition of the Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, revealing what she calls a 157-year-old mystery. In the tradition of Richard D. Altick's classic Scholar Adventurers, though without the pleasure, elegance, and significance, Bennett describes how she identified Mary Diana Dods, the deformed and possibly lesbian writer who published Dramas of the Ancient World, Tales of the Wild and Wonderful, and several reviews in Blackwood's under the name "David Lyndsay," and who, transformed into Walter Sholto Douglas, "married" Isabella Robinson, and, along with her illegitimate daughter, emigrated to France (assisted by Mary Shelley, who apparently knew of the entire subterfuge) to pursue a diplomatic career. Abandoned when Isabella ran off to marry legally and live in Italy, "he" remained in Paris with a widowed sister and died there in poverty. Except for some occasional minor information about the decade, 1820-1830--how much things cost, what people earned, custody arrangements, courtship rituals, sexual deviance, etc.--this is mostly rather pointless gossip, a parody of historical scholarship. With the exception of Mary Shelley, who plays a minor role here, all of the figures with whom Mary Dods's life intersects are petty-minded, insignificant, irrelevant, and offer little illumination about the history or culture of the period. Still, without the superstructure of scholarship and ideology, this is a fascinating story, a pathetic and unique chapter in the often comic history of transvestism, more--even ideally--suited for fiction or drama.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1990
ISBN: 688-08717-5
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
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