One of the oddest stories in Mary Shelley's life ...
Mary Diana Dods
On April 10, 1999, not long before I was heading off to Europe to chase Mary and the others, I sat in the old Saywell’s drugstore (RIP), drinking coffee. And my journal records: started reading B. Bennett’s book about Diana Maria Dodds. (It seems I was still a little confused about the name and title—even the spelling!)
We’ve met Betty Bennett much earlier in this account. She was the premier Mary Shelley scholar of her day (she died on August 8, 2006), the editor of the definitive three-volume edition of Mary’s letters, author of numerous articles and other books about Mary and her circle. And in 1991 she published Mary Diana Dods: A Gentleman and a Scholar, a book that told one of the wilder stories that involved Mary Shelley.
In September 1824 Mary, on a number of occasions, gathered with other literary folk at the home of Dr. William Kitchiner. And there she met Mary Diana Dods, who wrote and published under the names David Lindsay and Lord Dillon.
This is not all that strange, of course. Women writers had a hard time breaking into the literary world thoroughly dominated by men, and so determined women employed all sorts of tactics—from publishing anonymously (as Mary did in the initial 1818 edition of Frankenstein; some thought her husband had surely written the novel). Others published under male pseudonyms. This continued beyond Mary Shelley, of course: Mary Ann Evans—1819–1880, Mary Shelley’s junior by more than twenty years—wrote as George Eliot, and even into our own day the popular YA novelist a few decades ago, the author of The Outsiders and other enormously popular works, employed a genderless name—S. E. Hinton. She is Susan Eloise Hinton, not the sort of name, her publisher figured, that would lend credibility to her story about young gangs. So S. E. she became.
My journal’s a little vague, but it seems I didn’t take Betty’s book with me to Europe (there are no mentions of it in my travel journal), and my home journal records only that I finished it on May 15, more than a week after I returned. There are only 269 pages of text, so I’m certain that’s what happened. Started it before I left, finished it when I got home.
And what a story it is!