Skip to content Skip to navigation

Mary Diana Dods - A Reference Timeline

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - 11:00

Complicated historic stories tend to send me either to drawing up genealogies or timelines. When I finished doing my LHMP summary of Bennett's book on Mary Diana Dods, I needed to sort it all out in my head by coming up with a chronology of her identities and movements. One startling aspect is how short the time was between the first inklings of creating Walter Sholto Douglas as a husband for Isabella Robinson, and Douglas's probably fatal end in a French debtor's prison. Bennett never seems to interrogate the various references to Dods' physical ailments and Mary Shelley's rather abrupt turn from assisting in the creation of Mr. Douglas to treating him as some sort of villain with a "diseased mind". I'm not going to add my own speculations to the question of what Dods thought about the Douglas marriage project, or how she felt personally about Isabella Robinson. As story fodder, those details don't matter and as history they may be unknowable.

In the following timeline, keep in mind that Dods, Lyndsay, and Douglas are all the same person. "MS" is Mary Shelley because she appears so often I got tired of typing the whole thing.

* * *

Pre-1790 (maybe)

  • Georgiana Dods born

1790 (maybe)

  • Mary Diana Dods born?


  • Evidence that Mary and Georgiana Dods are living with their father, Lord Morton in London.

Ca. 1808-1810

  • Georgiana Dods marries John Carter and goes to India with him.

Ca. 1814 (maybe)

  • Mary Diana Dods leaves her father’s household when he marries (a woman younger than herself!).


  • Mary Diana Dods is living in Swansea and racking up debts. This appears, in part, to be a result of her father having no idea what sort of allowance is necessary for the minimal support of the bastard daughter of an earl, and the irregularity of the payment of that allowance which puts Mary into a debt spiral where she's constantly borrowing from friends to pay off creditors and then begging for money to pay the friends.

Ca. 1818

  • Georgiana Carter (Mrs. Carter) is back in London with 2 children, her husband dies in India. She joins Dods in Swansea sometime in 1819.

1820 (roughly)

  • Dods and Carter move to London, one step ahead of their creditors (who eventually track them down). They are borrowing money from Miss Figg to pay debts and beg their father for money to settle them.


  • February - References to Dods having “scholars” in London as a reason for remaining there. She appears to be giving music lessons among other things. Mrs. Carter is looking for a post as a paid companion. The sisters appear to be living separately for a time.
  • March - There are references to Miss Charlotte Figg in Dods’ accounts. (Miss Figg appears to be a close friend who has slightly better access to funds than Dods has, though see later notes on that.)
  • August 27 - David Lyndsay’s first letter to publisher William Blackwood. The return address is care of Mrs. Carter in London. (In the midst of all of the anxious letters from the sisters to their father about money, it's clear that Dods is taking clear positive action to try to bring in more income, both from writing and from the teaching venture with Miss Figg and others. Dods' choice to pubish under a male pen name need not be seen as anything to do with gender identity--simply a means of being taken seriously. It may also be that her father woudn't take kindly to her publishing under her own real name. She reassures him on that point in one letter.)
  • August - Publication of Lyndsay’s Plague of Darkness in Blackwood's Magazine
  • October - Publication of Lyndsay(?)’s The First Murder in Blackwood's Magazine
  • November - Dods writes to her father telling of the success of the academy she runs with her associates Miss Figg and Miss Aleworth who teach piano and singing. Mentions that she is writing for newspapers and magazines including the Edinburgh Review. Mrs. Carter is boarding with them. (Mrs. Carter's concerns largely have to do with making sure her sons are placed in good boarding schools and that she's able to locate herself nearby to visit them. I'm feeling a lot of personal echoes of my Luzie Valorin from Mother of Souls in reading about their struggles.)
  • December - Publication of Lyndsay’s Mount of Olives in Blackwood's Magazine
  • December - Lyndsay’s collection of dramas published by Blackwood. (The collection of dramas, alas, did not sell well. Blackwood lost money on the venture and this seems to be the point when he cools significantly towards Lyndsay's work. Lyndsay/Dods, on the other hand, quite naturally feels like things are looking up.)


  • January - Publication of Lyndsay’s The Ring and the Stream in Blackwood's Magazine
  • January - Lyndsay mentions to Blackwood that he is about to leave town for his health.
  • February - (for several months?) Dods (and David Lyndsay) and Mrs. Carter possibly leave London. Lyndsay’s mail drop is Mr. Weale.
  • February - Lyndsay/Dods inscribes a poem of loss on the flyleaf of a copy of his collection of dramas. The book later finds itself in the hands of MS. (This is the context where I'm intensely curious about who the poem might have been mourning if it referred to a genuine real-life personal loss. The friend most commonly mentioned by Dods in this era is Charlotte Figg, but she is clearly still alive and thriving after this date, so it can't be her. But might the period away from London be connected with grief? All pure speculation on my part.)
  • April 1 - Lyndsay tells Blackwood he has been at Cheltenham for the waters due to a complaint of the liver.
  • April - MS writes that she admires Lyndsay’s Cain. (This is the first hint that Dods had become part of the Shelleys' circle. Lyndsay's claims to Blackwood of having been their intimate also support a serious friendship around this date.)
  • May - Publication of Lyndsay’s Horae Gallicae in Blackwood's Magazine
  • May - Lyndsay continues writing to Blackwood but his material is no longer being accepted for publication.
  • June - Dods is in London. She writes her father of her disappointment that he won’t help her unmarried friend Miss Figg to get a pension in honor of her father's military service. Describes Figg as “her friend and partner” who earns what she can by teaching music (but may receive an inheritance when her mother dies). (One shouldn't read anything into the word "partner" as they had been business partners in the musical academy. It's easy to lose track that "partner as euphemism for same-sex lover" only really cropped up in the later 20th century.)
  • June - Lyndsay writes to Blackwood with an air of desperation, noting the very moderate nature of his allowance from his father. Blackwood rejects his proposed projects.
  • July - Percy Shelley dies, as well as Edward Williams (common-law husband of Jane Williams)
  • August - Lyndsay tells Blackwood he is about to go to France with a friend and collect materials for his writing. (Unclear if Dods did travel to France with Figg at this time.)
  • August - Publication of Lyndsay’s The Death of Isaiah in Blackwood’s Magazine.
  • September - Dods writes her father about the poor state of the education industry. She and her friend Miss Figg are looking into setting up the academy in Paris instead, which her friend’s mother is looking into. (Miss Figg appears to have traveled to Paris to assist with this exploration, but it isn't clear that Dods accompanied her.)
  • November - Lyndsay writes Blackwood with a new proposal after a long gap.


  • February - Lyndsay complains to Blackwood of not hearing from him. He proposes a set of German translations, perhaps a connection with those MS mentioned to Colburn.
  • March, April, June, July - Lyndsay continues to offer works to Blackwood but no indication of any interest.
  • August, September, October, December - Lyndsay and Blackwood have a spat and reconciliation, Lyndsay continues to express disappointment that Blackwood is not taking his works. (After the successes of 1821 and the slow decline of her situation in 1822, there's a sense that Dods must have been coming to wit's end with regard to finances during this period.)


  • February - Lyndsay requests Blackwood to return material via Weale if not usable.
  • February - Mrs. Carter, writing their father on Dods’ behalf, tells of her desperate finances which involve entangled loans with Miss Figg and her mother.
  • March, May - Lyndsay still receives no response from Blackwood.


  • Some time this year - MS, Isabella and Mary Diana Dods all attend Dr. Kitchener’s salons. Dods and Shelley almost certainly were friends for several years before this, but Isabella may be a new acquaintance.
  • January - Lyndsay’s first contact with Blackwood since the previous May. Notes his goblin tales will be published by Hurst and Company and asks if he may dedicate them to Blackwood. (The answer was no.) He mentions in passing that he is “well acquainted with Mrs. Shelley.”
  • May - Lyndsay writes to Blackwood mentioning that his Tales of the Wild and the Wonderful is being published by Hurst and Robinson and asking Blackwood to include  a book announcement for his new books.
  • Oct/Nov - Lyndsay writes Blackwood on several subjects and includes anecdotes about his friendship with MS, calling her a “fine creature” too good for the party she belongs to and providing gossip for which MS was certainly the source.


  • June - Blackwood writes to Mrs. Sholto Douglas accepting two works for publication. (Presumably there was previous correspondence from her offering them.) This is around the time when Isabel’s daughter Adeline is born. (It's a reasonable presumption that Isabella is doing the actual writing here, rather than just allowing her name to be used. What isn't clear is whether there was already a plan at this point for Isabella to be Mrs. Douglas permanently for her own benefit, as opposed to filling the role for the sake of Dods' writing career.
  • July - Mrs. Sholto Douglas (Isabel Douglas) responds to Blackwood, disclaiming authorship in favor of her husband, to whom she says she’s been married 6 months.
  • August - Blackwood’s Magazine publishes a story credited to “Mrs. Sholto Douglas”.
  • October - MS writes to publisher Alaric A. Watts, acting as go-between for David Lyndsay  while he was abroad (no direct evidence of Dods going abroad), and sending a packet of his writing, but it is too late to be included in his publication
  • October - MS writes to publisher Henry Colburn promoting David Lyndsay’s new collection of dramas to him


  • June 27 - MS first mentions the Douglases in her letters. (But since she is most likely the context of the Douglases meeting, one assumes that she has been aware of the fictitious marriage from the very start.)
  • July - MS’s friend Jane Williams becomes common-law wife of Thomas Jefferson Hogg, MS feels Jane has betrayed her by gossiping about her past, especially her relationship with Shelley.
  • July 23 - George Douglas, Lord Morton dies.
  • July 30 - Funeral of George Douglas, Lord Morton.
  • July - MS letter to Jane Williams Hogg mentions Walter Sholto Douglas, he is attending the funeral of Lord M, he and Isabel are newlyweds. MS others are in the south of England with Isabella Robinson Douglas, who is anxious about “D” who is off at the funeral of Lord M whose will is relevant to the Douglases’ fate. MS is there until October 1827. (It's important to note that the financial consequences of Lord Morton's will are not the possibility of receiving some substantial inheritance, but rather the possibility that Dods and Carter will lose their allowances entirely -- a possibility mentioned by Lord Morton in his previous correspondence with them. The confirmation that the annuity will continue is a relief, but not any sort of solution to their financial difficulties.)
  • August 11 - Date of the codicil of Lord Morton’s will that confirms an annuity to his “reputed” daughters, Mary Diana Dods and Georgiana Carter.
  • August 20 - MS writes a friend that Mr. Douglas is coming in “a few weeks” after which the Douglases will leave for Paris.
  • August 26 - MS and Isabella Douglas are evicted from rooms in Sompting and move to Arundel.
  • August 28 - MS  refers that Douglas “seriously thinks of les culottes.” (That is, Dods has decided to live publicly as Mr. Douglas. It isn't clear whether this was intended as a permanent life-long project or a temporary experiment.)
  • September 23 - Dods has joined MS, Isabella, and Mrs. Carter. Dods is now living publicly as Mr. Douglas.
  • September 23 - MS commissions John Howard Payne to impersonate Douglas to pick up passports for the Douglases’ trip to Paris.
  • September 25 - MS writes publisher Alaric A. Watts about a delay in sending him some work of hers. She includes a packet “from Mrs. Douglas.” (This doesn’t appear to be material for publication?)
  • October 1 - The passports are received.
  • October - The Douglases and Mrs. Clark travel to Paris. (The removal to Paris served two functions. It enabled the Douglases to establish their new married identities away from anyone who might call foul. And English people were finding that living abroad was less expensive that staying at home. It isn't clear what the Douglases' finances are at this point. Dods would appear to be receiving very little in the way of writing income, but had her annuity. There's the annuity. Isabella has reconciled with her father and might possibly be receiving an allowance from him but I haven't seen any mentions of this. And whatever their income is, it's certain that their expenses outstrip them.)
  • November 12 - Mr. Godwin dined at MS’s joined by Mr. Robinson. (There are a large number of entries from Mr. Godwin's (MS's father's) journals that mention social events involving Mary Shelley and various other people in the Douglases' circles such as Isabella's father and sister, or Dods' friend Miss Figg. These are very much side issues, but show that the larger social circle continues on interacting with each other, even as the Douglas marriage runs onto the rocks and fails. I've included only a few of them.)
  • December 5 - MS records in her journal that she has lost one friend (Jane Hogg) and is divided from another (Isabella Douglas) but "divided from" might only refer to the geographic separation.


  • February 12 - MS’s journal records a visit from the Robinsons.
  • March 2 - Mr. Godwin joined Miss Figg and Miss Robinson at MS’s house.
  • April 11 - MS leaves for Paris to stay with the Douglases, with Mr. Robinson and Julia Robinson (Isabella’s sister) who is her new companion. She comes down with smallpox on arrival.
  • May - MS returns to England
  • June 5 - MS writes Jane Hogg about Isabella and refers to Isabella’s “sufferings [that] transcend all that imagination can portray” and speaks of trying to “extricate her.”
  • June 13 - MS receives a letter from Viscount Dillon with compliments to Miss Dods and a request for her to send stories for inclusion in his publication. MS sends some of her own work and that of “a friend writing as David Lyndsay,” though it is too late for inclusion.
  • June 22 - MS writes to an unnamed editor promoting Lyndsay’s work. (It's very interesting that even as Mary Shelley is commiserating with the "sufferings" brought on Isabella by her marriage, she continues to promote Dods' literary endeavors under various names.)
  • June 28 - MS writes to Jane Hogg about Isabella and blames herself for some problem possibly having to do with the marriage. She blames Sholto, referring to his “diseased body” and “diseased mind”. Last mention of the Douglases in her letters
  • July 5 - A Paris friend writes MS that Isabella Douglas is bored.
  • October 5 - A Paris friend writes MS that Isabella Douglas is involved with Claude Fauriel and criticizes her for it.


  • February 4 - A Paris friend refers to the Douglases’ marriage as an argument against the institution.
  • May 13 - MS’s journal says she might have been happy with Isabella but “that dream is over”. (Is this because she now sees through Isabella as shallow and self-centered? Or because the Douglas marriage is a bar to MS and Isabella having some sort of romantic friendship relationship? Unclear.)
  • May 15 - Mr. Godwin dines at MS’s with Julia Robinson
  • July - After this, the Douglases are no longer mentioned by their previous friends in Paris. There is no evidence that they go to Hannover as planned.
  • September - Lyndsay’s last letter to Blackwood proposing a long Scottish historical poem. He spells his name “Lindsay” and the handwriting is not his usual. (Although Bennett doesn't comment on any matches to the handwriting, one might guess that this is Mary Shelley continuing to act as a go-between for Dods' literary hopes.)
  • November - A Paris correspondent notes that Mr. Douglas is in prison for debt. (The law at the time considered the husband to be the only "legal entity" in the marriage. So Isabella wouldn't be under threat of imprisonment, though one must assume that she would lose any lodgings and might be importuned by creditors. Was she staying with friends? Had she skipped off back to England? No clue.)


  • May 10 - Mr. Godwin dines at the Robinsons with MS and others.
  • June 7 - Mr. Godwin has tea at MS’s with Thomas Moore and the Robinsons. (I've included these notes to point out that whatever Isabella was doing, she wasn't socializing with her family back in London.)
  • November - Isabella Douglas and Adeline are back in London.
  • December 1 - MS’s journal records her disillusionment with Isabella Douglas. “She has lost her fascinations.” The two are clearly estranged. There is no mention of Sholto

1832 Mary Clarke continues to complain about the behavior of Isabella in Paris.

1840 (maybe) Isabella marries Mr. Falconer.

1842 Mrs. Carter dies and is buried in Paris.

1851 Mary Shelley dies.

1853 Adeline Douglas is married. The license lists Walter Sholto Douglas as her father.

1869 Isabella Robinson Douglas Falconer dies in Italy.

Major category: