Sunday, October 31, 2010

Two women elope

I don’t want to stray too much into Mary Shelley territory -- indeed, she can be a hindrance in searches - but I have just read that she aided two women to elope! In Intimate Friends: women who loved women (1778-1928), Martha Vicinus tells the story of Mary Diana Dods (1791? -1830?) the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat, who disguised herself as a man, changed her name to Walter Sholto Douglas, and married her pregnant friend Isabella Robinson. Mary Shelley, already a friend, helped the two women get passports and escape to Paris. MS’s help was discovered by Betty T. Bennett, an American academic, who compiled her letters in the 1980s.

MS had, famously, eloped with Shelley when she was 16 and he was married to another woman (with whom he had also eloped when she was that age: the poet had form).  Did this dispose MS favourably towards the couple's elopement? Presumably she knew of her mother's passionate devotion to Fanny (and before her, Ardent Jane). Did this dispose her favourably towards the two women, devoted to each other?
Intimate Friends mentions Mary Wollstonecraft in the introduction, but only once in the index, and does not explore her story. Nonetheless, the daughter cannot be understood without knowing the mother.


  1. YOu are absolutely right. Mary carried her mother inside, those brilliant, offbeat genes. I love that story of the elopement! In essence, Mary did it herself. And might have done with her dearest friend Fanny--though probably not physically. But who knows? We have all loved at least one other woman in our lives, have we not--even the most heterosexual of us? (Nancy)

  2. Our Mary was a fine mother to her first daughter, from all accounts. But she did not hold her own mother in much esteem, regarding her as a doormat to the violent pater familias. As for the two best friends eloping, well, I hadn't phrased it to myself like this before, but it could be argued that they did "run away" to Newington Green, to set up home and a life together. More Ladies of Llangollen than Vita Sackville-West & Violet Trefusis.