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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 23, août 2001

Romanticism and Sexuality

Sous la direction de Richard C. Sha

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005985ar

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Pseudonymity, Passing, and Queer Biography: The Case of Mary Diana Dods

Geraldine Friedman

Purdue University


If the normative practice of biography is grounded, as James Clifford puts it, in "the myth of coherent personality,"[1] how can a life be written that is based not on identity but the subversion of identity? This is the question posed by the life of Mary Diana Dods, a woman with multiple names and genders. A brilliant but impoverished early nineteenth-century Scottish woman and an illegitimate daughter of George Douglas, the fifteenth Earl of Morton, Dods seems to have had all the advantages of an aristocratic upbringing until the earl married a much younger woman. Apparently uninterested in marriage and supposedly disqualified for it by physical deformity, Dods was then, apart from a small allowance from her father, thrown on her own devices to survive. Having had an excellent classical education, she tried the typical professions available to respectable intellectual women in early-nineteenth-century Britain: giving lessons, running a school for girls, and taking in lodgers. (Her sister Georgiana, who was also illegitimate, attempted the remaining option, being a lady's companion, when she became a young widow but never found a position.) Finding herself unable to live on the combined proceeds from these endeavors and her allowance, Dods began to supplement her income by writing for magazines, both anonymously and under the masculine pseudonym of David Lyndsay. The invention of the Lyndsay persona was a prelude to a more radical transformation under another authorial pseudonym, Walter Sholto Douglas. As Douglas, Dods eventually adopted masculine dress, passed as a man, and moved to France, where, hoping to join the diplomatic service, s/he played the role of husband to Isabella Robinson, a beautiful young woman who needed a father for her illegitimate child. Douglas's diplomatic ambitions remained unfulfilled, and he seems to have died between November 1829 and November 1830, of mental and physical ailments.[2]


Until recently, the conservative understanding of subjectivity and narrative in much biographical practice has converged with the social stigma and often severe punishments attached to gender crossing to keep stories like Dods's from being written.[3] In fact, these factors have tended to produce a curious situation where the requirement for coherency in a life story can be strictest precisely in those cases that radically put into question any notion of the subject as a unitary entity, comprehended by a single name and possessing a single life history and gender. This happens, for example, in the prescribed programs of counseling and training developed by the transsexual industry in the twentieth century for gender dysphoric persons who seek sex-reassignment surgery. The professionals who control access to this surgery and prescribe the shape of the entire transformative process define passing as its goal. Consequently, they teach pre-operative transsexuals attempting to live as members of the "opposite" sex to talk about their past histories in ways that conceal their gender change and future sex change.[4] The resulting narratives are even less flexible than the generality of normative biographies, because while in the latter wholeness is conventionally achieved as an end product, in the former it is asserted to exist from the beginning.[5]


Yet, the emergence of two new factors has changed this state of affairs significantly. The incursion of poststructuralist theory into biographical studies and the advent of transgender activist movements have recently given an unprecedented visibility to alternative biographical practices which in deliberately fragmentary and discontinuous narrative forms celebrate self-contradictory subjects, including those who change their sex and/or gender. These new generic models are epitomized by a different kind of transsexual narrative, in which the subject rejects the goal of passing and insists instead on being read as transsexual. Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us is perhaps the most famous example in this category. For Bornstein, her unconventional textual practice and her non-unitary identity go hand in hand: "My identity as a transsexual lesbian . . . [is] based on collage. You know—a little bit from here, a little bit from there? Sort of a cut-and-paste thing. And that's the style of this book. It's a transgendered style, I suppose."[6]


Given the major shifts in the sex/gender system from the early nineteenth century to the present, it would be anachronistic to call Dods a transsexual.[7] Yet as a subject whose multiple personas queer the network of relations among persons, gendered bodies, names, and signatures, she also demands a different kind of life writing if she is to be visible at all. In fact, she has already been the subject of one such effort: Betty T. Bennett's Mary Diana Dods: A Gentleman and a Scholar, which records the author's serendipitous discovery of Dods's male personas and the difficult, slow, and frequently interrupted task of linking of these identities to a woman. For my own research into the case, I have followed in the tracks of Bennett's skilful literary detective work,[8] and I would like to acknowledge my debt to her at the outset, for my reading would have been impossible without hers. In what follows, I shall interpret Bennett's study of Dods along with primary documents relating to the case, because that study raises, with greater and lesser degrees of explicitness and self-consciousness, a host of paradigmatic issues related to writing an unconventional biography when the biographical subject is a gender-crossing woman. Most importantly for the present study, the speculations punctuating Mary Diana Dods as to whether or not Dods's gender masquerades are motivated by erotic desire for other women must be considered in terms of larger epistemological questions that persistently arise in relation to women's same-sex sexuality. For in Western philosophical, artistic, literary, and psychoanalytic traditions, sexual desire between women is persistently represented as an enigma that incites an obsessive desire for knowledge.[9] Bennett's work provides a convenient opportunity for considering the stakes of preserving these epistemological questions on the one hand or of seeking to resolve them on the other hand by finding one true, universal explanation for female sexuality.[10] Since these philosophical queries in turn render problematic the status of documentary evidence, they also open the way for a critique of the positivistic historiographical methods on which conventional biography depends. By exploring these issues in relation to Dods and Bennett's reading of her, this essay aims to intervene in the ongoing theorizing of life writing. In particular, I argue for the necessity of articulating questions of textuality and methodology with questions of gender, sexuality, and feminism to produce a genre that might be called queer biography.[11]


Dods requires a different kind of biography not least because her story depends on the technological possibilities of writing and more specifically the disseminatable letter. By sending her author's queries and manuscripts through the post, she was able, at this early stage in her transformations, to assume identities independent of her sexed body. In this way, she began a series of transgender careers so successful that they remained undiscovered for over 150 years, until Bennett discovered them in the process of preparing a new edition of Mary Shelley's correspondence. A member of the widowed Shelley's small circle of women friends in England, Dods appears in that correspondence in the form of coded references. Later, when Dods had to pass in person as a man, she added the disguise of clothes. These methods worked largely because they exploited practices in the specific historical, cultural, and social matrix in which they were deployed. She was able to find masculine attire that fit her female and deformed body because individual tailoring was the norm for middle-class and upper-class persons in her pre-mass-production moment. In addition, the fact that pseudonymous and anonymous publication and reviewing were common practices in the thriving magazine culture of this age gave her a ready-made and relatively unobtrusive means of keeping her own name a secret. Yet for all that, she was still able to and did draw on the new allure being attached to authorship. For as Robert J. Griffin has recently argued, pseudonymity and anonymity coexisted with signed authorshship over a long period that includes the nineteenth century, and under certain circumstances they could even fulfill what Foucault calls the author function. Dods thus reaped a double benefit from living at a time when the institutions and practices of authorship were in a state of flux. She could use her pseudonym as a tease to arouse a publisher's interest in her authorial persona without, however, attracting undue suspicion to herself or running much risk of discovery.[12]


Dods's first publisher, William Blackwood, of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, raises the issue of pseudonymity in his initial letter to David Lyndsay: "I have been so much accustomed with my Magazine Correspondents assuming names, that when I hear from a stranger I am always uncertain whether or not I see a real or an assumed signature. I never however ask farther than what my correspondents choose to communicate."[13] Despite this claim to discretion, the Blackwood-Lyndsay correspondence and Blackwood's letters to other contributors are full of questions and answers about the real names of pseudonymous and anonymous authors and references to well-known aliases, such as Christopher North (for John Wilson) and Elia (for Charles Lamb).[14] Dods offers one reason for the widespread practice of pseudonymity and anonymity in a letter to her father, which explains why she does not publish her reviews of others' works under her own name:

I sometimes, about once a quarter, write a criticism for the Reviewers upon some popular work, any that happen to be the fashion, for which, I am esteem'd one of the cleverest and keenest of that race of Vipers. I am paid tolerably well, ten Guineas per sheet, but this not under my own name I dare not acknowledge the Fact lest the angry Authors whose works I am compelled to maul in the course of my vocation should return the compliment and maul me in return.[15]

This explanation in terms of self-protection is a pragmatic reason based on the nature of reviewing as an institution, but, clearly, it is not Dods's reason, since she did not write her literary compositions or essays under her own name either. Thus it is unlikely that anyone could have connected the author of the reviews with the author of the other works. The institutional feature provides not an explanation, then, but a plausible cover story for Dods's experiments with identity. And experiment she did, developing even the unembodied Lyndsay persona much further than practicality required. In fact, for Blackwood, it took on a life of its own. In a letter to his fellow publisher Charles Ollier, he expressed his desire "to hear anything you know about David Lyndsay" and confided that he thoroughly enjoyed his correspondence with the young man.[16]


Dods's pseudonymity is part of a much larger and much more complex project than a simple avoidance of vengeful criticism of her compositions. Since no materials have been found in which Dods goes into her motives more fully, and since what follows will show that we could not be sure how to take them if they did exist, much about those motives will remain inaccessible to us. In particular, we have no way of determining the precise role her sexuality or gender identification played in her male impersonations. Of course, this means that we have no more reason to think she was heterosexual than we do to think she was queer.[17] The evidence we have is incomplete and indirect, but Dods seems, on one level, to have been trying to escape at least partially from the many severe limitations on women's lives and earning power. Her letters to her father, full of accounts of her debts and pleas for money under threat, sometimes of imprisonment, from her creditors, create the image of a woman pressed to the limit, whose utmost exertions cannot earn her a living (although her style never loses its panache).[18] A statement in a positive review of her Dramas of the Ancient World, the book she published with Blackwood at his invitation, suggests the incentive she had, under these circumstances, to assume a masculine authorial persona. In the course of a disquisition on the current state of drama, the anonymous reviewer pronounces judgment on one of the most admired playwrights of the day, Joanna Baillie: "Joanna Baillie is a woman, and thence weak in many things," although he then goes on to give her qualified praise.[19] One of the most intriguing documents in the Dods/Lyndsay/Douglas materials reads as if it responded to the issue raised in this statement. In a letter to Blackwood signed "Isabel Douglas" but whose authorship Bennett finds good reason to question (Bennett 166), the author explains her use of male pseudonyms for her literary works in light of prejudices like those expressed by the reviewer, who sees a causal relation between being a woman, no matter how esteemed, and being weak: "You are not to think it strange that I always assume the person of a gentleman in all I write, but in truth I do not think women gain much by being known as authors even in this age of universal charity."[20] As a whole, the evidence implies that one reason (but not necessarily the only one) Dods and/as the (perhaps partial) author of this letter wrote under men's names was to avoid automatic and unwarranted judgments of inferiority.


The Lyndsay pseudonym allowed Dods to accomplish this goal. Blackwood extravagantly praised Lyndsay's first submission to Maga, which later formed part of Dramas. Speaking of the "high gratification and honor of receiving" Lyndsays's manuscripts and the "lustre" they would add to his magazine, Blackwood writes: "It would be absurd to say anything in the way of praise to the Author of such scenes, for the mind that was capable of conceiving and so admirably executing them, must be conscious of its own powers, and feel that the world must do them justice."[21] Blackwood also had great expectations for the commercial success of the volume: "It is impossible for any one to predicate with certainty what may be the sale of a Book, only this I will say, that if it is not a successful publication I shall be more mistaken than I ever was in my life."[22] Yet, as Bennett notes (182), Blackwood was wrong; Lyndsays's Dramas never sold well, and this financial disappointment led the publisher to begin rejecting Lyndsay's submissions and proposals, despite holding them in critical esteem, for Blackwood always maintained that Dramas deserved to be more appreciated than it was.[23]


This qualified, literary versus commercial success is dwarfed by the spectacular achievement of Lyndsay's—and Walter Sholto Douglas's—transgender performances, which, according to all available evidence, were universally and unquestioningly accepted as the real thing. No mixed reception here; all smash hits. On the few occasions on which Lyndsay shows that he does not completely master the code of gentlemanly behavior, Blackwood suspects nothing. The most revealing instance arises after the two disagree about the merits of Peter George Patmore, who had published his private correspondence with Blackwood without the latter's permission, unbeknownst to Lyndsay.[24] When the publisher by return mail rages against the man who thus betrayed him, Lyndsay attempts to make amends by implying he would fight a duel if Blackwood remains unsatisfied with his apology:

I lose no time in making this explanation and apology—if it be not sufficient to satisfy your feelings, pray command me. I will offer it in any way you please. I deserve a Bullet at ten paces for my thoughtlessness at least in appearing to offer an impertinence when God knows nothing of the kind was intended.[25]

In his subsequent expression of regret that Lyndsay was "so vexed" by his letter, Blackwood tacitly registers the hyperbolic character of Lyndsay's response; the offer of fighting a duel is out of all proportion to Blackwood's condemnation of Patmore. Yet Blackwood does not see the hyperbole for what it is: a sign that his correspondent is treating him to a slightly imperfect gender masquerade. In fact, the publisher assures the author: "Unknown as we are personally to each other, I have always in corresponding with you felt the fullest confidence that I was writing to a gentleman."[26] That Blackwood thinks only the "gentle" part of "gentleman" is in question makes his acceptance of Lyndsay as a man all the more striking and ironic.


A more complex irony lies in an anonymous review of Dramas in Maga. The reviewer declares David Lyndsay, who is not a real man (that is, neither real nor a man) "a man of talents and of genius," while vilifying actual men—the Cockney dramatists—as "mollies" and "eunuchs":

What an emasculated Band of dramatists have deployed upon our boards! A pale-faced, sallow set, like the Misses of some Cockney boarding school, taking a constitutional walk, to get rid of their habits of eating lime out of the wall. Shiel, Howard, Payne, Molly Procter, Virginia Knowles . . . . How prettily the sentimentalists simper as they go! The tear is in every eye, and the drop at every nose! 'Pray who is that smock-faced eunuch, mincing his way in the procession? The author of THE SUCCESSFUL TRAGEDY!!' We can no more.

But the procession of Misses Molly has past by—and we again look upon men. Now men do not come forward at the Cockney cry.[27]

One doesn't have to be Judith Butler to see that, as Lyndsay, Dods performs gender. S/he is playing to an audience, whom s/he would mislead; in other words, she is attempting to pass. Her success in outscoring actual men on the reviewer's masculinity scale unsettles the equation between maleness and masculinity, and between sexed bodies and gender that her audience assumes. The paradox of the situation emerges most strongly from the fact the reviewer invokes Lyndsay's supposedly unambiguous masculinity to police gender categories and boundaries by disciplining a species of improper men: "the adult passive transvestite effeminate male or molly" who comes into existence in early-eighteenth-century Britain and constitutes a "third illegitimate gender."[28] Thus Dods's cross-gender performance is ironically a site where challenges to proper gender are negotiated.


But the real gender trouble begins when we take into account that Dods herself was perceived as ambiguously gendered by her contemporaries. The writer Eliza Rennie describes in glowing detail what she calls Miss Dods's "queerness":

. . . certainly Nature, in any of its wildest vagaries, never fashioned anything more grotesque-looking than this Miss Dods. She was a woman apparently between thirty and forty years of age, with a cropped curly head of short, thick hair, more resembling that of a man than of a woman. She wore no cap, and you almost fancied, on first looking at her, that some one of the masculine gender had indulged in the freak of feminine habiliments, and that "Miss Dods" was an alias for Mr. —. She had . . . a complexion extremely pale and unhealthy, with that worn and suffering look in her face which so often and so truly—as it did, poor thing, in hers—tells of habitual pain and confirmed ill-health; her figure was short, and, instead of being in proportion, was entirely out of all proportion—the existence of some organic disease aiding this materially. Her dress, by its singularity, accorded well with her physical peculiarities and disqualifications, and only tended to heighten and exasperate, so to speak, the oddity of her tout ensemble. She was habited thus:—Her dress was of some white fabric—cambric, I think—and though the fashion of the period sanctioned "gores," and robes were then, in contradistinction to the present amplitude of width, scanty in their allowance of "breadths," yet hers was of such a very lean description, that it had something the resemblance of a close-fitting pillow-case. On it was a row of little successive tucks, which reached to the knee, as if to have body and skirt of one material was of too ordinary a character for her toilette. She wore a tight-fitting green silk spencer, like what one of the jackets now worn would be without a "basque." My astonishment at her appearance was unbounded, and I had some difficulty to keep myself from betraying this, and to control the laughter I longed to indulge in; but the charm and fascination of her manner, the extraordinary talent which her conversation, without pedantry or pretence, displayed, soon reconciled me to all the singularities of her appearance, and checked all inclination to mirth; and I quickly ceased to wonder at "Doddy," as she was familiarly termed by Mrs. Shelley and her intimate friends, being so especial a favourite. She was a great linguist, being thoroughly versed in almost every European language, and, taken together, a person of very remarkable mental endowments. She was a contributor, she said, to "Blackwood's Magazine," and announced herself as the author of a book called "Tales of the Wild and Wonderful."[29]

This passage wreaks havoc with the genetic relationship usually assumed between gender masquerade and presumably "true" gender, and it does so all the more subversively because it describes Mary Diana Dods in propria persona and under her own name. Here, Dods is indeed performing in Butler's radical sense, in which gender is not a "core" or stable identity or even a "noun," but "a performative, . . . always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to preexist the deed." Following the anthropologist Esther Newton, Butler suggests in Gender Trouble "that the structure of impersonation reveals one of the key fabricating mechanisms through which the social construction of gender takes place." Thus a pastiche practice like drag, "in imitating gender, . . . implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself—as well as its contingency." In impersonating herself, then, Dods supports Butler's contention that all ways of inhabiting a body, including so-called original gender, are performances, because they invoke or resignify pre-existing conventions. Indeed, Butler turns to drag in order to deconstruct the originariness of original gender: "The notion of an original or primary gender identity is often parodied within the cultural practices of drag, cross-dressing, and the sexual stylization of butch/femme identities."[30] Yet gender performance does not require the staginess of these practices, and, in fact, Dods's self-impersonation is more radical than they are precisely because it is not deliberately theatrical, but rather unintentional. Since Dods's original gender appears put on, in this case the original is itself a parody. At this point, there is no non-travestied body, and the whole idea of an original is subverted. By appearing to be in drag while wearing her usual clothes, Dods not only disjoins sex and gender but also makes the arbitrariness of gender coding glaringly obvious. Striking the observer as a cross-dressed man, she eventually becomes a cross-dressed woman, and it is very telling that once she makes that change, she is no longer perceived as "queer," but just "a little deformed and very clever," and no longer inspires laughter but sympathy.[31] In going from Mary Diana Dods to Walter Sholto Douglas, she thus goes not from gender-appropriate dress to cross-dressing, but from one kind of cross-dressing to another, less visible kind. For her masculine disguise surprisingly raises less suspicion than her more gender-appropriate clothes, and her performance as a man is more easily naturalized and less easily pathologized than her performance as a woman. In this vertiginous spiral of masquerades, the very difference between the natural and unnatural is deconstructed. To be sure, this kind of disjoining of sex and gender is not automatically subversive in the sense of remaking the map of social power, as Butler concedes in Bodies That Matter (126), where she somewhat qualifies her position in Gender Trouble. Indeed, we have seen that Dods is unable to fulfill her goals as Lyndsay and Douglas alike. Nonetheless, although the two male personas offer no permanent solution, they provide her with temporary and precarious possibilities for continuing to negotiate a subjectivity and to survive materially and socially when she runs out of options as Mary Diana Dods. Finally, the effects of Dods's gender travesties cannot be limited to the policing and consolidation of proper gender, despite the use that the Maga reviewer makes of the Lyndsay persona. On the contrary, we shall see that they act as a kind of refracting mirror in which the other characters in Dods's story begin to look somewhat "queer."


The proper name undergoes a subversion similar to that of original gender when Rennie jokes that Dods's real name is an alias. Indeed, there is some truth to what Rennie says. In a sense, "Mary Diana Dods" is at least as false a name as "Walter Sholto Douglas," for "Douglas," the family name of the earls of Morton, reveals a true blood relationship, the paternity that the name of Dods is designed to hide (Bennett 242). Finally, "Mary Diana Dods" itself functions as anything but a single name in the entire Dods/Lyndsay/Douglas story. In the family circle, she is called Mary. Acquaintances, like Rennie, call her Miss Dods. She signs herself M D Dods. To her close women friends, including Mary Shelley, she is Doddy, and in Mary Shelley's letters she is simply D. Lest it seem like splitting hairs to insist on these distinctions, let me point out that the gender neutrality of "D" is part of the cover-up of the Douglas-Robinson marriage in Mary Shelley's letters, where the story is encrypted. Bennett devotes one entire chapter of her work to the discovery that this initial refers to a woman (Bennett, "The Question of a Pronoun," 74-85). Bennett's first big breakthrough comes when she is able to confirm that D is Doddy is Miss Dods (Bennett 85). In addition, the equally gender-neutral signature "M D Dods" misleads Bennett for a while into thinking she is dealing with a man, Reverend Marcus Dods the elder, who turns out to be a red herring and drops out of Bennett's account without comment. Thus Mary Diana Dods's so-called real name is itself many aliases, and it renders visible what we all know but also all forget: that normally there need not be a one-to-one correspondence between a proper name and a person. Already multiple, the proper name is no longer the origin from which the pseudonym departs, and Dods's pseudonyms are no longer secondary to a primary name. At this point, there is only a chain of pseudonyms that cannot be traced back to an original, real name or identity as its support and ground, for they are themselves not unitary.


Since Dods deconstructs the concept of the origin with respect to name and identity, it is clear that we cannot discover her real self among or behind her multiple names and personas.[32] But her "queerness," to use Rennie's word, can shed light on the complexity of identity, even in cases where it does not seem obviously problematic. For the most cursory examination shows that all the actors who come into Dods's orbit, from the most eccentric to the most conventional, exhibit some peculiarities of embodiment, dress, and/or name in common with Dods.


Here, we shall follow a trajectory that goes from the exceptional to the staid in order to follow out a certain logic of identity subversion. Thus we begin with one of the eccentrics, Dr. Kitchener, whose Tuesday evening salons were attended by Dods, Isabella, Mary Shelley, and Eliza Rennie. Rennie describes the doctor in terms that recall her description of Dods:

. . . I must give you an outline of the doctor's personal appearance.

This was very remarkable, stamping him with individuality and originality at least, if it challenged for him no more unfavourable judgment. . . .

. . . his figure, dress, and gait were alike, and altogether most outré. He was tall, bony, angular; his body always looked of most disproportionate and unnatural length—and there was a gaunt, ungainly look about him, which at once arrested your attention. An attack of paralysis, which affected one side, gave to his gait a halting movement almost painful to witness. To the same calamity also, I believe, was attributable the loss of sight in one of his eyes. But this deficiency was not observable, as he wore glasses—of his own invention, by the way. His complexion was dark, but not unhealthy-looking; his features good, and the expression of his indicating shrewdness of mind combined with kindliness of heart.

At the time I knew him, I guess—for he never spoke of his age—he must have been between fifty and sixty years of age. Had he condescended to dress in an ordinary mode, he might have passed without comment; but imagine a man, lean, long, and queer-looking, exasperating these defects by wearing a coat of a cut in total discordance with those of everyone else, black, of some material that was shiny—'continuations,' long gaiters, buttoned up to the knee, and superadded to all—a spencer! And then his hat! Who shall describe his hat!—who shall describe its shape and fabric? On some of the Frenchmen who frequent Leicester Square and its precincts I have seen the nearest resemblance to it. It was low-crowned, broad-brimmed, and napless. He seldom indulged in pedestrianism, his lameness obliging him to use his brougham. But I never did see him in the street without observing that he fixed the gaze of every one he came in contact with. He had been brought up as a physician, and in early life followed it as a profession. But having succeeded to a good fortune, he abandoned it as a pursuit, only giving advice gratuitously to occasional patients, and surrendered himself up to the prosecution of his favourite hobbies and follies, it may be.

Rennie 1:199-201

Like the "queer" Dods, the "queer-looking" Dr. Kitchener has a deformed, disproportionate body, and its "defects," like hers, are "exasperated" by strange, unfashionable clothes, and the overall appearance of both is so out of the ordinary that it irresistibly captures the observer's eye. In each case, that appearance has been materially affected by illness. Perhaps because of the combined influence of oddness and disease, the age of each one is difficult to guess and can be specified only to within ten years. Both sport a short jacket called a spencer, which, since in one form it was worn by women and children and in another by men, confuses gendered dress codes.[33] Kitchener and Dods also resemble each other in additional ways. Both have learning and intelligence; she has impressive linguistic knowledge and writes clever pieces, while he is an inventor and generally shrewd. Both also have multiple careers. Where she gives lessons, runs a school, writes reviews, tales, and dramas, and takes in boarders, he first practices medicine and then becomes an amateur astronomer, a culinary experimenter, and an author, whose cookbooks earn him fame. Finally, Kitchener, like Dods, experiences a shift in economic status, although in the opposite direction. Upon inheriting money, he no longer has to work for a living; upon her father's marriage and the accompanying decrease in his financial support, she is forced to find employment.


Despite being conventionally feminine in many ways, Isabella Robinson (Douglas) unsettles the proper name and singular identity almost as much as Dods does. First, Bennett finds Isabella, like Dods, baffling in terms of sexual orientation, because Bennett takes it as a contradiction that Isabella could have enough sexual interest in men to become pregnant while unmarried and yet live as the wife of a woman (Bennett 251). As Walter Sholto Douglas's supposed wife, Isabella is an equal partner in the gender masquerade and fictional marriage. Both women are actresses, and, it must be emphasized, both pass, despite the pervasive and, in my opinion, unfortunate tendency in the primary and secondary literature to see only the cross-dressed woman in any couple as doing so.[34] But presenting oneself as a woman in a conventional marriage to a man when that man is not a man and there is no legal marriage is passing. Furthermore, Isabella takes on a pseudonymous identity when she passes as Mrs. Sholto Douglas and especially when she presents herself as an author. In the letter to Blackwood that bears her assumed "married" name, she indulges in an elaborate play on signatures: "you are mistaken if you imagine as your letter seems to insinuate that I am the author of the pieces you have done me the honour [honor?] to insert. I know that all sorts of fiction are usual, and permitted in this kind of correspondence, yet I told you my real name and situation—and I will hold to the simple truth in every thing I communicate," she writes, before narrating the fiction of her marriage to "a Scotsman by name Sholto Douglas."[35] When she later says: "I have placed the signature 'Lilla' to all I have written merely to distinguish them from the more spirited and better written pieces of my husband" (f. 253v), she creates a mise en abyme of pseudonymity in which the "original" of a false name is another false name, that is, if she is indeed the author of this letter. If not, there is a new complication, in which the writing hand and authorship belong to two different—pseudonymous—people. For Bennett suggests that Isabella is perhaps only the scribe of the letter and that the two authors "Lilla" and Mr. Sholto Douglas are both Mr. Sholto Douglas (166). Under this arrangement, Dods could continue to submit materials to Blackwood's without being identified through her handwriting as the unwelcome David Lyndsay, whose epistolary style "Isabella's" recalls. But if Isabella is not necessarily the author of the letter or the manuscripts signed "Lilla," she nonetheless produces fictions as do Dods and her alter egos. For Rennie reports that the author Lord Henry Augustus Dillon condemns Isabella as an inveterate liar who "tell[s] . . . stories" (Rennie 2: 203), and others accuse her of creating masks to serve her self-interest. According to the testimony of Frances Wright, Isabella plays the role of intimate friend to Mary Shelley, all the while painting unflattering pictures of her to their Parisian circle.[36] On December 1, 1830, when Dods/Douglas was almost certainly dead, the fictional marriage dissolved, and Isabella's perfidy revealed, Mary Shelley writes: "Good heavens—is this the being I adored—she was ever false yet enchanting—now she has lost her fascinations—probably, because I can no longer serve her she take[s] no more trouble to please me—but also she is surely not the being she once was."[37] By this account, this switch from one being to another is a radical type of multiple identity, in which Isabella does not simply hide her true self behind a false role but is two different people. Finally, Isabella assumes yet another name when, around 1840, she becomes the Reverend Mrs. Falconer, perhaps again without benefit of marriage (Bennett's extensive research could turn up no marriage certificate; 233).


Jane Williams Hogg, another member of Mary Shelley's female circle of friends, shares the trait of fictionalizer with Dods and Isabella; she, too, "tells stories" about Mary Shelley. Furthermore, like them, she uses assumed names. Having fled an alcoholic and abusive husband whom she could not divorce, she first passes as Mrs. Edward Williams and then Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Hogg (Bennett 29). But the use of assumed names does not necessarily indicate a deliberate falsification of identity or status. All the married women in the case, regardless of their honesty or dishonesty, go through name changes. Thus, in addition to those already mentioned, the earnest Georgiana Dods becomes Mrs. Carter; the unreliable writer Rennie, who fictionalizes her memoirs by claiming an intimacy she never had with the celebrity Mary Shelley, becomes Mrs. Walker; and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who by 1828 boasts of her virtue, in her unconventional youth becomes Mrs. Shelley before she can be legally wedded to Percy Bysshe Shelley. Like Dods's assumption of the Douglas pseudonym, Mary Shelley's name change is associated with sexual scandal. Thus at this time marriage is, so to speak, a socially instituted pseudonymization of women, because it customarily requires them to take their husbands' surname. As a result, married women are often almost as difficult to trace through documents as the masquerading Doddy and, for this reason, like her, tend to drop out of history.


More unexpected is the echo of Dods's gender travesty on the part of the said Mary Shelley, whom Rennie describes as perfectly feminine,[38] and whose beauty contemporaries often remarked on. One would thus expect her to be the antithesis of the deformed and mannish-looking Mary Diana Dods. In fact, however, Mary Shelley at one point describes herself as symbolically transgendered. When she gets smallpox in France, her descriptions of her "clipped" and "cropt" [sic] hair[39] recall Rennie's description of Dods's cropped hair, "more resembling that of a man than of a woman." In addition, Mary Shelley's letters praising the beauty and perfections of her "dearest Jane" Williams Hogg echo the lover-like letters Mary Diana Dods writes to her "pretty" Mary Shelley.[40] Both women write in the conventional idiom of female romantic friendship, and Bennett speculates on the possibility of lesbianism in both cases (248-49).[41] To top it all off, Bennett presents Mary Shelley as a case of multiple personality. While most studies of her portray "a diffident Mary Shelley, with little life-force beyond her extraordinary first novel, Shelley and their children, and her parents," Bennett sought and found in her subject's letters "a far more complex woman" (Bennett 11)—in fact a transgressive woman and even a criminal, for those documents reveal Mary Shelley's central role in arranging the false marriage between Doddy and Isabella.[42]


That even the staid publisher of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine turns out to have more than one identity might seem incredible, but in his very first letter to David Lyndsay, he writes under two personas, publisher and merchant: "Having now spoken for myself and my friend Christopher [North, a renowned Blackwood's reviewer], permit me to say a few words for myself as a Bookseller."[43] But perhaps the most astonishing case of multiple identity is that of the legitimate members of the Douglas family who hold the Morton title. Morton family portraits present the possibility of a metaphorically transgendered earl. A painting of a small boy in a dress, who is either Doddy's father or, more likely, her grandfather, suggests cross-dressing, or, more accurately, given that in nineteenth-century England and America, dresses were normal clothing for both boys and girls until the age of five or six, gender ambiguity, again, as part of a social institution.[44] The significance of the child's dress is enriched by another portrait of the thirteenth earl and his wife and children, in which the sons and daughters all look exactly alike (Bennett 241). In these paintings, common nineteenth-century British sartorial practices, aided by family resemblance, indicate a completely conventional and routine suspension of gender dichotomy at a certain life stage, childhood. Doddy is able to exploit such moments in an unconventional way; for her they represent openings in which the possibility of her gender performances can be glimpsed and seized.


Similarly, her father's many names and titles, all properly conferred, can provide the model for Dods's pseudonymy. "He was George Douglas, fifteenth earl of Morton, Representative Peer of Scotland, Baron Douglas of Lochleven, chamberlain of the household to the queen consort, Knight of the Order of the Thistle, lord lieutenant of Fifeshire and of Midlothian, vice-president of the Royal Society, Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland" (Bennett 242). Furthermore, he, too, is a case of mistaken identity. According to the English Burke's Peerage, he is the sixteenth Earl of Morton; while according to The Scot's Peerage, he is the fifteenth, and the confusion results in Bennett's getting the wrong document at a crucial point in her investigation (Bennett 70-71).


Against this background, where seemingly "normal" characters exhibit anomalies of gender and name, it is clear that Mary Diana Dods's transmogrifications [45] take on their full significance only when we realize that Dods's identity does not first become a mystery when she begins to use false names and, later, pass as a man. As Bennett concludes in her study, who Mary Diana Dods is is a very real question, both before and after David Lyndsay and Walter Sholto Douglas come into consideration: "Doddy's life insists on the mysteries and complexities of existence that are so often oversimplified in the name of order and control" (269). With "the very noblest of old Scotland's blood" in her veins and educated "under the best of Masters," she is sometimes recognized as a daughter of the aristocracy before her father's marriage,[46] but thereafter she lives as precarious a life as any single middle-class British woman in the early nineteenth century, given the limited and low-paying employment available to them. In sum, due to the uncertainty of her class-position as a reputed daughter and to the so-called oddities that keep her out of the marriage market and thus a conventional woman's life (perhaps by her own choice), she alternates between being somebody and nobody, between being visible and invisible. What better training for taking on false identities than this condition of not quite having a real, socially recognized self in the first place?


Let us now consider the implications of Dods's case for historiographical and biographical methodology. Normally, the identity of historical and biographical subjects, presumably comprehended under a proper name and single gender,[47] is established on the basis of primary documents, such as birth, death, and marriage certificates, passports, and letters, which give such fundamental facts as sex and age. Indeed, some of these facts are such basic and ubiquitous aspects of identity that it is impossible to speak of human subjects without knowing them. In the Dods case, all of these are at some point falsified, incorrect, and/or contradictory with respect to one or another of the characters. For example, the age of Isabella Robinson's daughter Adeline on her death certificate conflicts with the age on her marriage certificate (Bennett 231). There is no wedding certificate for Isabella's supposed second marriage (to the Reverend Mr. Falconer), although that marriage, and, for that matter, the one between Walter Sholto Douglas and Isabella Robinson Douglas, are listed in that most authoritative of reference works, The Dictionary of National Biography (Bennett 233, 76). Finally, the signatures on the passport of Walter Sholto Douglas and Isabella Douglas are false. Mary Shelley sent physical descriptions and sample signatures of both to her friend John Howard Payne so that they could be impersonated and their handwriting forged at the London passport office.[48] Mary Shelley comments on the success of the impersonation and forgery: "All seems admirably managed—and the double of my pretty friend [Isabella] deserves infinite praise—the signature alone is a miracle."[49] The forged signatures are particularly troubling, since it is on the basis of handwriting that Bennett establishes Mary Diana Dods and David Lyndsay as one and the same (Bennett 169).[50] In fact, the Dods story shows, in these examples and others, that the authority of all forms of historical and biographical evidence can be undermined. Participating in the nature of writing, they are structurally constituted, as Derrida has shown, by iterability, which is to say, by the possibility of being repeated outside their original context, by a different sender and to a different addressee. Thus iterability opens the empirical possibility of forgery,[51] which, as we have just seen, plays a large role in the Dods case. No wonder that at various stages in her search to identify the characters in the drama, the more documentary information Bennett finds, the less she knows:

I had reached a new degree of uncertainty about Lyndsay and Douglas. At the beginning, I was searching for biographical information about one writer and one husband. Now there were at least four men, David Lyndsay, Walter Sholto Douglas, M. D. Dods, and Marcus Dods, plus one woman, Doddy. They could all be the same man—or woman. At this point, after fourteen months of hunting, reading, reviewing; after dozens of letters and countless books, I didn't know either the name, the origins, or the sex, of David Lyndsay or Walter Sholto Douglas.[52]

Bennett 85

Although Bennett does not thematize the methodological difficulty that the problematizing of so-called factual evidence poses for her own work and even reaffirms her faith in "dusty documents," she can be seen none the less to develop a new investigative method. She solves the case not by confirming facts from document to document but by reading the contradictions between them. And, at least as important, she recognizes that facts alone do not provide a solution. The most stunning illustration of this point occurs when, against the seemingly established account of the DNB, she entertains, gradually and against great resistance, the possibility that certain feminine pronouns in Mary Shelley's letters refer to Doddy (or D), who would then be Isabella's female husband. At this point, Bennett declares: "[S]uddenly, the illogical [that Isabella Douglas could be married to—or passing as the wife of—a woman] became the logical," and "As I read, I saw for the first time, what was there all along" (Bennett 76). To see what is there (i.e., the facts), one must see differently. Without the proper modality of vision, which is to say, without the proper frame of understanding, one renders the facts invisible; for grasping their basic information requires interpretation. Here, to see at all means seeing outside the assumptions of compulsory heterosexuality, seeing that there is an outside to them. It is the frame of compulsory heterosexuality that renders all unions except those between a man and a woman illegible (whether or not that union is sexual).[53]


Concomitant with this radical shift in reading and vision, Bennett produces a different kind of biography. Instead of composing a single magisterial narrative with a unified subject, she gives us a multiple subject and a narrative that works on two different but intertwined registers: on one level, we get the story of Mary Diana Dods and her alters, and on the other, the story of Bennett's detective work on them. Both stories proceed as a series of re-readings, often in the most literal sense, as in the case of the feminine pronouns in Mary Shelley's letters I have already cited. In addition, the seemingly most transparent and obvious documents change radically in meaning when they are read in light of other documents. For example, initially reading Lyndsay's letters by themselves, Bennett gets the impression of a self-confident, somewhat boastful young man-about-town who drops hints about his noble blood and friends in high places. However, when she rereads them with Blackwood's responses, and with Dods's and her sister's letters to their father, what formerly seemed like bragging comes to look like a desperate effort to renew Blackwood's interest after the commercial failure of Dramas (Bennett 184-88; 206-18).


To be sure, this emphasis on multiplicity coexists with regressive attempts to discover the real Dods. Throughout most of the work, Bennett is obsessed with finding the truth of Dods's sexuality. In this quest, she acknowledges as her expert guide "regarding aberrant sexual characteristics" the sexologist John Money (Bennett 289n42), who himself relies on Robert J. Stoller's concept of a core gender identity, although the two researchers differ on other matters.[54] Money and Stoller and their brand of sexology in general espouse liberal and enlightened attitudes toward gender variation and sexual variation, but Bennett's reference to sexual aberration reveals the normative assumptions behind this allegedly benevolent approach. In practice, the concept of a gender core tends to be used to enforce strict adherence to traditional and often stereotypical gender roles in an effort to ensure heterosexuality, on the grounds that anything else will meet with social hostility. In Money's work, it is a small step from here to justifying gendered power hierarchies: "If you're a woman with passive dependence bound deep in the core of your female schema, you will be as uncomfortable wielding authority as if you grew a full beard."[55] During the heyday of gender clinics, this notion of a deep, constant, and ineradicable gender "schema" allowed Money and other sexologists to act as gatekeepers to sex-reassignment surgery by claiming to have a protocol for discerning who was really a transsexual and, by implication, who a man and who a woman. In this perspective, there are only two, dichotomous possibilities, and everyone, including transsexuals, must be one or the other.[56] Since this view also sees gender (re)assignment as determining who does and does not 'wield authority," Money is deeply implicated in maintaining the "order and control" that Bennett has already identified as oversimplifying "the mysteries and complexities of existence" upon which "Doddy's life insists" (269). Therefore, by accepting Money as an authority, Bennett goes against her own deepest insights into Dods's case. In fact, her discoveries are much more in line with the work of queer theorists such as Judith Butler and Sandy Stone than with any kind of sexology. This is particularly so with regard to the extraordinary degree of autonomy that Bennett grants to Dods's alter egos. Upon discovering Dods's letters to her father and her letters as Lyndsay to Blackwood, Bennett writes: "Finding out more about a person sometimes means finding a new person" (174). This statement looks forward to the radical and depathologizing position that Stone, writing as Allucquère Rosanne Stone, takes on multiple personality, when she argues that the possibility that more than one person can inhabit a body should be taken seriously (A. R. Stone 58).


Viewed in this light, Bennett's efforts to discover Dods's truth, driven as they are by a desire-to-know that Bennett herself recognizes as voyeuristic and thus libidinal, yield a result that is both ironic and telling, for they produce a dizzying array of potential sexual characters. After a veritable orgy of prurient speculation where in the space of five pages she asks whether Dods was a lesbian or transvestite or both (256, 258), a hermaphrodite (258), a "genetic," "biologically based" [sic] transsexual (259-60), or a practitioner of romantic friendship (260), Bennett is forced to give up this line of inquiry as inconclusive. She then decides that sexuality should be subsumed under the "far more significant question" of self-image: "If she [Dods] was a lesbian [Bennett's favorite speculation], the necessarily clandestine nature of that preference reinforced what was a far more significant question central to her life: In her own eyes, who was Miss Mary Diana Dods?" (Bennett 261). The search for Mary Diana Dods's 'true sexual self' ends (256; emphasis added), but Bennett's search for the ultimate truth does not. In fact, both quests share a common theoretical orientation, dictated by the metaphysics of substance that underlies any notion of a deep, inner essence. Thus the basic project does not change but merely takes on a new form, in which Bennett now interprets Dods's life as a search for a stable personal and social self: "an existence where she could be recognized for what she was; where she could see her self [sic] in the mirrors that are other people's eyes" (268). Bennett ultimately restores the notion of real identity (and, by implication, the true motivation of Dods's masquerades) that her narrative has interrogated.


Yet if Bennett attempts to resolve Dods's contradictions, she nevertheless lets the contradictions of her text stand. The deconstruction of identity remains side-by-side with the recuperation of identity, and even the latter is achieved through masquerade: by going to France, Bennett writes, Dods 'could become, however disguised, herself" (266, emphasis added). Bennett's study thus includes a record of its theoretical contradictions, false starts, blind alleys, breakthroughs, and the slow, frustrating process of linking Dods up with her pseudonymous identities. A work that deliberately shows its seams, it exhibits a quasi-poststructuralist textuality. Thus Bennett's method is in keeping with the fractured and split subjectivity of Mary Diana Dods, which, in the end, brings to light the splitting of all the subjects in the story, as a condition of subjectivity itself. In fact, although Bennett does not explicitly identify herself as a feminist (of course, this does not stop her from raising numerous women's issues) or a deconstructionist, Mary Diana Dods: A Gentleman and a Scholar fulfills most of the criteria that biographer, feminist scholar, and theorist of biography Sharon O'Brien sets out for a new kind of feminist deconstructionist biography. First, Bennett "find[s] ways of interrupting her own voice" and, as shown above, extensively "incorporate[s] into the text a record of the shifts and developments in her own construction of the subject." In this connection, she also resists allowing "the 'last' self" of all the selves the biographer discovers in the subject to "become[] the final one, the only represented one, [as] the former selves disappear, fading away in the biographer's memory as the first, second, and third drafts go into the wastebasket." Second, Bennett does not follow the traditional practice of ending the work "with the death of [her] subject" (O'Brien 129-30). In contrast to this strong closure, we have seen that she emphasizes the uncertainty of the date and circumstances of Dods's death and, by insistently telling of her fascination with Dods, endows her with a kind of afterlife or effectivity in the present. By the same token, Bennett inscribes herself in the narrative, not as a magisterial subject of knowledge but as a situated, limited subject of desire.[57] Finally, she "takes into account the possibility that the female subject may occupy many "subject positions" in a life—positions that vary according to class, race, sexual preference, family status, and age," not to mention gender. In fact, Bennett goes O'Brien one better by showing that Dods occupies multiple positions in relation to most of these individual identity categories. With Mary Diana Dods, Bennett thus exceeds O'Brien's model of feminist deconstructionist biography to write a queer biography.


I would like to thank the librarians and staff at the following archives and libraries for their help with the research for this essay: the Manuscripts Division of the National Library of Scotland, the National Archive of Scotland (formerly the Scottish Record Office), Special Collections and Western Manuscripts of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, the British Library, and the Houghton Library of Harvard University. Thanks also to the National Library of Scotland for permission to quote from the Blackwood Papers, to the National Archive of Scotland for permission to quote from the Morton papers, to Lord Abinger as the owner of the Abinger Papers and the Bodleian Library at Oxford for permission to quote from the Abinger Deposit housed there, and to the Houghton Library of Harvard University for permission to quote from the Pertz Papers.




"'Hanging Up Looking Glasses at Odd Corners': Ethnobiographical Prospects," in Studies in Biography, ed. Daniel Aaron (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1978) p. 44. It is worth mentioning that autobiography does not have the same reputation for theoretical backwardness that biography does but was instead in the forefront of deconstructive theory. See, for example, Paul de Man, "Autobiography as De-Facement," The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia UP, 1984) pp. 67-81, and Peggy Kamuf, Signature Pieces: On the Institution of Authorship (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988), which draws on the work of De Man, Derrida, and Barthes.


In Mary Diana Dods: A Gentleman and a Scholar (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991; subsequent references to this work will be indicated parenthetically in the text as Bennett), the only book-length study to date on Dods, Betty T. Bennett places Dods's death within this interval because Dods was reported to be suffering from severe physical and mental disease at the earlier date and all traces of her various personas disappear from the historical record by the later one, with one possible exception. In Paris, Bennett found a death certificate dated 1845, of a Scotsman identified only by the surname of Douglas. The certificate does not contain enough information to establish the identity of the decedent with certainty (Bennett 227-30; 267-68). I will deal at length with Bennett's work in the course of the present essay. In the brief account of Dods's life and personas I have given here and in the text, the problem of pronomial usage already arises. Since no single pronoun can appropriately refer to all these personas, I generally call Dods "she" and Lyndsay and Douglas "he." For locutions like "Dods as Douglas," I use "s/he." Clearly, my practices are not completely consistent, but there is no way to get the pronouns "right." The inevitable errors that result should be taken as a symptom of how gender gets inscribed in the English language.


Here, "much" does not mean "all," for the reputation of biography for conservatism is not completely warranted. As William H. Epstein points out in Recognizing Biography, since at least the 1880s the genre has been the subject of vigorous theoretical reflection (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1987) p. 7. Epstein's project in this work and in his edited collection Contesting the Subject: Essays in the Postmodern Theory and Practice of Biography and Biographical Criticism (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 1991) is to view biography through the lenses of postmodern, or perhaps more accurately, poststructuralist, theory.


See, for example, Suzanne J. Kessler and Wendy McKenna, "Gender Construction in Everyday Life: Transsexualism," in their Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978) pp. 132-39, henceforth cited parenthetically in the text as Kessler and McKenna; and Julia Epstein, "Transsexualism: Reflections on the Persistence of Gender and the Mutability of Sex," in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991) p. 251.


See Rob Wilson, "Producing American Selves: The Form of American Biography," in Contesting, ed. Epstein. Wilson points out that the conventions of biography "deliver the individual as a tormented journey toward coherent unity, striking personality, and expressive selfhood" (p. 167).


Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (New York: Routledge, 1994) p. 3. In another striking example of unconventional life writing dealing specifically with transsexualism, "The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto," Sandy Stone, a self-styled posttranssexual, issues a call to the transgender community for such autobiographical innovation (in Epstein and Straub, 297-99). Stone herself has multiple personas and writes under various pseudonyms. In the introduction to The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1995), which she authored as Allucquère Rosanne Stone, she discusses her experimental view of her own identity: "I tend to see myself as an entity that has chosen to make its life career out of playing with identity. It sometimes seems as though everything in my past has been a kind of extended excuse for experiments with subject position and interaction." Stone differentiates her position from two seemingly similar ones: the widely accepted view among many in progressive academic circles that any "current 'root' persona is also a mask" and symbolic interactionist theory, which sees the root persona as "a momentary expression of ongoing negotiations among a horde of subidentities." According to Stone, the difference lies in the formers' belief that without the "root" persona they are no one and in the latter's insistence that the process of negotiation "is invisible both to the onlooker and the persona." In contrast, Stone claims that for her the process has always been visible; so much so, that what terrifies her is a momentary experience of being fixed in a single transparent identity (pp. 1-2). Stone's work on multiple identity disorder (MPD) insists on the non-self-identity of persons in another sense, arguing that the diverse personalities in MPD are at least "quasi-independent" rather than ruled by a core self ("Risking Themselves: Identity in Oshkosh," War, 45-63.) As Jay Prosser points out, most transsexual autobiographies that reveal the sex change are structured as transformation narratives. Prosser reads transgender activist Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues: A Novel (New York: Firebrand, 1993) as breaking these conventions, for the heroine deliberately halts her transformation from female to male at a transitional point. Prosser discusses in detail transgender activist movements that refuse passing and instead demand that transgender persons be read as transgender ("Transgender and Trans-genre in Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues" in Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality [New York: Columbia UP, 1998], 171-205; cited hereafter as Prosser). Clearly, Stone and Bornstein are such activists. For an earlier example of a fictional biography about sex change that flies in the face of conventional demands for unity, see Virginia Woolf's Orlando, which Epstein treats briefly in Recognizing Biography (pp. 168-71). Explicitly and ironically invoking the conventions of biography, Woolf writes: "Happy the mother who bears, happier the biographer who records the life of such a one [as Orlando]! Never need she vex herself, nor he invoke the help of novelist or poet. From deed to deed, from glory to glory, from office to office he must go, his scribe following after, till they reach what ever seat it may be that is the height if their desire" (Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1928, 1956) pp. 14-15. For a fuller treatment that emphasizes the breaching of biographical conventions in Orlando, see Ellen Carol Jones, "The Flight of a Word: Narcissism and the Masquerade of Writing in Virginia Woolf's Orlando," Women's Studies 23 (1994): 155-74.


Bernice Hausman argues that transsexualism is a historically specific phenomenon because the advances in medical technology that have made sex-change surgery possible have played a vital role in these shifts: "surgical technologies [that] make sex change possible . . . have affected the distinctions between sexological categories—transvestism, gender dysphoria, and transsexualism (as well as homosexuality)—and thus those who can claim an identity under their signs. If we consistently read back through the categories of the contemporary period, we are bound to miss the specificity of what it meant for historically dissimilar subjects to represent (in a variety of modes) the 'other sex'" (Berenice L. Hausman, Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender [Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1995; cited hereafter as Changing Sex]) p. 13. The question of whether or not transsexualism is iatrogenic, that is, induced inadvertently by a physician or his or her treatment, often arises within discussions of the relation between transsexualism and medical technologies and knowledge. On this topic, see Hausman's "Demanding Subjectivity" in Changing Sex (pp. 11-40) and the exchange between Hausman and Vern Bullough regarding "Demanding Subjectivity" (The Journal of the History of Sexuality 4.2 [October 1993]: 288-92) after it was published as an article in The Journal of the History of Sexuality 3.2 (October 1992): 270-302; Dwight B. Billings and Thomas Urban, "The Socio- Medical Construction of Transsexualism: An Interpretation and Critique," Social Problems 29 (1982): 266-82; and Prosser 7-9. John Money and Richard Ambinder also address the issue of iatrogenesis (although they do not name it) when they attest: "With the advent of modern plastic surgery, and the synthesis and commercial manufacture of sex hormones, in the first half of the twentieth century, persons with extreme gender identity transposition increasingly made their demands known to the medical profession" ("Two-Year, Real-Life Diagnostic Test: Rehabilitation v. Cure," in Controversy in Psychiatry, ed. John Paul Brady and H. Keith H. Brodie (Philadelphia: W. B . Saunders, 1978) p. 834; cited hereafter as Money and Ambinder. Other commentators have critiqued transsexualism from a different perspective, arguing that the term lumps together "emergent polyvocalities of lived experience" (Stone, "Empire" 293) and glosses over "the incredible flexibility of sex/gender patterns in sexual minorities" (Janice M. Irvine, Disorders of Desire: Sex and Gender in Modern American Sexology [Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1990] p. 267).


I provide detailed references to archival sources that Bennett omits, since her book is addressed to a general audience as well as a scholarly one.


For a treatment of this linkage, see Judith Roof's A Lure of Knowledge: Lesbian Sexuality and Theory (New York: Columbia UP, 1991). Roof argues: "Attempts to depict or explain lesbian sexuality spur anxieties about knowledge and identity" (p. 5). Lisa L. Moore's work on romantic friendship is also relevant here, for she writes of its "unknowable status": "If you can't tell from the outside whether 'female intercourse and habits' might be masking 'every possible indulgence,' how can you rely on the 'unsuspected state' of such habits . . . ?" (Dangerous Intimacies: Toward a Sapphic History of the British Novel [Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1997]) p. 80. These works treat the crystallization of questions of knowledge around questions of desire, which, according to Foucault, is precisely what characterizes modern sexuality. Concerning the "general economy of discourses on sex in modern societies since the seventeenth century," he writes: "Why has sexuality been so widely discussed, and what has been said about it? . . . What are the links between these discourses, . . . effects of power, and the pleasures that were invested by them? What knowledge (savoir) was formed as a result of this linkage? The object, in short, is to define the regime of power-knowledge-pleasure that sustains the discourse on human sexuality in our part of the world" (The History of Sexuality: Volume 1: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley [New York: Random House, 1978]) p. 11. Eve Sedgwick writes in a Foucauldian vein when she states: "what defines 'sexual identity' is the impaction of epistemological issues around the core of a particular genital possibility" ("Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," Tendencies [Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1993], 119).


For a study that preserves these questions and draws out their historical significance, see Andrew Elfenbein, "Anne Damer's Sapphic Potential," Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Role (New York: Columbia, 1999) pp. 91-124.


Three essays on biography, gender, and feminist issues that particularly resonate with Dods and Bennett's treatment of her are Alison Booth, "Biographical Criticism and the 'Great' Woman of Letters: The Example of George Eliot and Virginia Woolf"; Cheryl Walker, "Persona Criticism and the Death of the Author"; and Sharon O'Brien, "Feminist Theory and Literary Biography," all in Contesting, 85-108; 109-22; 123-34, respectively. Subsequent references to the last essay will appear parenthetically in the text as O'Brien. All three pieces address the challenges deconstruction poses to the traditional practice of autobiography and the ways in which these challenges affect the politics of feminist biography. On this score, Walker helpfully points out that Roland Barthes's influential essay "The Death of an Author" really targeted not so much "biographical criticism per se as any practice that sought to impose a limit on [the] text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing" (p. 110). Indeed, as will emerge below, Dods's case strikingly illustrates that recourse to the life can open and multiply questions rather than closing them. O'Brien's call and criteria for a new feminist deconstructionist type of biography (pp. 129-31) are particularly relevant to my discussion of Bennett late in this essay and will receive closer attention there. But Dods's case also puts some of the assumptions and positions of these essays into question. One such instance is Booth's statement that "A woman cannot help but write herself, and her self cannot help but be a woman" (p. 90). Dods complicates or gives the lie to both parts of this assertion. Reading within the frame of compulsory heterosexuality, Booth also disturbingly minimizes the importance of lesbianism and lesbian relationships in the lives of her subjects to overemphasize what she calls their dependence on a sympathetic male partner (p. 97). Since according to current criteria, it is disproportionately easier to qualify as heterosexual than non-heterosexual, such an approach promises to perpetuate heterosexist biases. In addition, it is doubtful whether even Walker's and O'Brien's nuanced notions of "authorship as multiple, involving culture, psyche, and intertextuality, as well as biographical data about the writer" (p. 109) and subject position as "vary[ing] according to race, class, sexual preference, family status, and age" (p. 130) allow for the possibility of contradictions within any one identity category; such contradictions are rife in Dods's own positions. Finally, Dods's pseudonymous and anonymous writing ironizes Walker's simplistic understanding of "the Romantic notion of the artist as supreme originator, towering above 'his' time and igniting 'his' text with primitive bolts of genius" (p. 110).


Robert J. Griffin, "Anonymity and Authorship," New Literary History 30 (1999): 877-95. Griffin revises the thesis of Foucault's influential essay "What Is an Author?" While rejecting Foucault's historical narrative about the emergence of the literary author function from the practice of pseudonymity, Griffin retains Foucault's methodological analysis. In particular, he emphasizes that pseudonymous authorship, broadly conceived as not referring to the legal name of an empirical writer, can fulfill the author function, precisely because it "is first of all an empty function, a structural blank space, which may be signed or unsigned depending on the circumstances" (p. 882).


William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, August 18, 1821. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 133. National Library of Scotland. All materials from the Blackwood Papers are quoted by permission of the National Library of Scotland. Apparently, Blackwood's sometimes made exceptions to its general policy of anonymous publication, for David Lyndsay got a byline for his poetic dramatic fragment, "The Death of Isaiah" (Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 12 [August 1822]: 205-11).


Blackwood is trying to capitalize on the high social status and connections of one anonymous author when he confides to Lyndsay: "The fair authoress [of Conduct Is Fate] is entre nous the celebrated Lady Charlotte Campbell, the Duke of Argylls [sic] sister. This I believe will be pretty generally known, though I am not at liberty to say so publicly" (William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, March 23, 1822. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 301. National Library of Scotland). In turn, Lyndsay queries Blackwood: "Is the Author of The [Scottish] Tales the Author of Adam Blair?" (David Lyndsay, letter to William Blackwood, June 10, 1822. Blackwood Papers, MS 4009, f. 12v. National Library of Scotland). Blackwood writes about the identity of the author of the latter work: "When first announced it was supposed to by [sic] the Author of the Annals but they are now quite satisfied that this is not the case and many other names have been fixed upon. The Author's name will not be known and I hope to get many other things from the same powerful hand" (William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, February 22, 1822. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 280. National Library of Scotland). On March 8, 1823, Blackwood reports that a play he has just published, The Italian Wife: A Tragedy, "is written by a very clever man who has contributed several capital articles both in prose and verse to Maga under the signature of TD" (William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, March 8, 1823. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 3, MS 30306, p. 122. National Library of Scotland). To Ollier, Blackwood reveals: "Entre nous Mr L. is the author of Valerius" (William Blackwood, letter to Charles Ollier, January 21, 1822. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 237. National Library of Scotland). For references to Christopher North, see William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, August 18, 1821. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 133. National Library of Scotland; David Lyndsay, letter to William Blackwood, August 27, 1821. Blackwood Papers, MS. 4007, f. 73r. National Library of Scotland; William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, July 25, 1822. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 3, MS 30306, p. 33. National Library of Scotland; and William Blackwood, letter to Charles Ollier, March 11, 1822. Blackwood Papers, MS 4009, f. 135r. National Library of Scotland. For a reference to Elia, see David Lyndsay, letter to William Blackwood, August 2, 1822. Blackwood Papers, MS 4009, f. 20r. National Library of Scotland.


M D Dods, letter to Lord Morton, June 26, 1822. Morton Papers, GD 150/3515/20. National Archive of Scotland (formerly the Scottish Record Office). Permission to refer to and quote from the Morton Papers here and elsewhere in this essay has been granted by the National Archive of Scotland. In this manuscript letter and others, I have retained eccentricities of spelling and punctuation.


William Blackwood, letter to Charles Ollier, February 22, 1822. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 280. National Library of Scotland.


Since Foucault's History of Sexuality: An Introduction (trans. Robert Hurley [New York: Pantheon, 1976]), the individual signifiers in the discourse of sexuality have come under debate, and "heterosexual" is no exception. If the term itself and the identity it names emerged only after "homosexuality" in the late nineteenth century, no new, historically specific terms have arisen as alternatives to it, as "sodomite" has arisen as an alternative to "homosexual. " Thus I continue to use "heterosexual," although with a sense of discomfort. It is interesting to see how over the years scholars have viewed the type of uncertainty that attaches to Dods's sexuality. In the pathbreaking essay, "The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America" (Signs: The Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1.1 [1975]): 1-29, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg recommends switching the emphasis from individual psychodynamics, with their emphasis on pathology, to "a larger world of social relations and social values," which include "the structure of the . . . family and . . . the nature of sex-role divisions and of male-female relations both within the family and in society in general" (pp. 2-3). Consequently, Smith-Rosenberg asserts: "The essential question is not whether these women had genital contact and can therefore be defined as heterosexual or homosexual. The twentieth-century tendency to view human love and sexuality within a dichotomized universe of deviance and normality, genitality and platonic love, is alien to the emotions and attitudes of the nineteenth century and fundamentally distorts the nature of these women's emotional interaction" (p. 8). This shift of focus away from sexuality, or more accurately, away from its twentieth-century categories, differs at least in emphasis from the perspective of more recent scholars, who often boldly embrace sexual categories. For example, Susan S. Lanser declares that she "will refer to Butler and Ponsonby [the Ladies of Llangollen] as sapphists" and expresses her strong agreement with Martha Vicinus that evidentiary standards for attributions of lesbianism should not be more stringent than for assumptions of heterosexuality, presumably because, all too often, those assumptions are based on no evidence at all ("Befriending the Body: Female Intimacies as Class Acts, " Eighteenth-Century Studies 32.2 [1998-99]: 184). See Martha Vicinus ("Lesbian History: All Theory and No Facts or All Facts and No Theory?" Radical History Review 60 [1994]: 59). Yet Lanser also "set[s] aside the question of what particular women might have done 'in bed' in favor of a different interpretive approach . . . [that] depends less on private acts than on public relations" (p. 184). Lanser's "public relations" are not the same as the broader context Smith-Rosenberg suggests, but it is striking that both advocate taking a larger view instead of viewing sexuality in isolation.


The letters of Dods's sister Georgiana, which frequently express sadness, worries about her health and finances, and dejection, contrast sharply with Dods's letters, as the following passage shows: "Believe me, my Lord was there any thing in the world I could do to rid you both of so detestable a plague as myself I would gladly do it—but at present time I have indeed not health for any exertions, besides I am so low and depressed people should soon be sick of me" (Georgiana Carter, letter to Lord Morton, December 22, 1820. Morton Papers, GD 150/3519/23. National Archive of Scotland). My intention is not to dismiss or minimize Georgiana's real difficulties as a widowed mother with two small children, ill health, and almost no earning power, but rather to emphasize Dods's immense fortitude and resilience under severe pressures.


Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine LVIII, x [Dec. 1821]: 731; see also Bennett 65.


Isabel Douglas, letter to William Blackwood, July 14, ?1826. Blackwood Papers, MS 4016, f. 253v. National Library of Scotland. This letter will be discussed at greater length below in regard to the questions surrounding its authorship and the ways in which it plays with the proper name as signature. Of course, "Isabel Robinson" is itself a false name, under which the author claims: "I told you my real name and situation" (f. 253r); the story she tells is based on the fiction of "Walter Sholto Douglas" and herself being man and wife. She later says: "I have placed the signature 'Lilla' to all I have written merely to distinguish them from the more spirited and better written pieces of my husband" (f. 253v). The usual situation of a person with a real name taking on a pseudonym is complicated here to yield a mise en abyme of pseudonymity, for we have not a false name and a real one that is its original, but a false name whose "original" is another false name. This is another way of saying that the original is lost.


William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, August 18, 1821. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 133. National Library of Scotland. According to Andrew Elfenbein's argument in Romantic Genius, the "powers" of mind here attributed to Dods/Lyndsay, with their suggestions of genius, were often associated with sexual non-conformity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. See especially Introduction (pp. 1-16) and chapter 1, "The Danger Zone: Effeminates, Geniuses, and Homosexuals" (pp. 17-38).


William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, November 20, 1821. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305 p. 182. National Library of Scotland.


On January 3, 1822, Blackwood writes to Lyndsay: "The sale has not yet been great, but I hope it will go on. Those who have read them talk of them very highly. I sent a copy to my old friend Mr. Mackenzie (the man of feeling), and in his note he says 'Thank you for Mr. Lyndsay's Dramas of whom I am surprised I never heard before; they have so much merit that he deserves to be heard of.' Professor Wilson too and a number of my other literary friends speak of them most favorably" (William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, January 3, 1822 [dated 1821 in error], Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 219. National Library of Scotland). Blackwood adds a postscript to the same letter: "I have just received a letter from one of my most respected and valuable correspondents to whom I sent your Dramas. He says 'Your Dramas of the ancient world' I have read with considerable pleasure. They are evidently the production of a man of genius. The Deluge and Cain both display great power. Sardanapalus will be cast in the shade by Lord Byrons I fear. The Nereid Love is one of the most beautiful classical pieces I ever read'" (pp. 220-21). On February 25, 1822, Blackwood says: "I am very sorry that there is yet but a small prospect of a second edition, for the sales both here and at London have not at all come up to my expectations. Mr Cadell when I heard from him the other day had only sold about 130. I hope however the work will soon be known as it deserves to be" (William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, February 25, 1822. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 287. National Library of Scotland).


William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, August 26, 1823. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book, MS 30306, pp. 187-88. National Library of Scotland.


David Lyndsay, letter to William Blackwood, September 1, 1823. Blackwood Papers, MS 4010, ff. 235r and v. National Library of Scotland.


William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, September 5, 1823. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book, MS 30306, p. 192. National Library of Scotland. The fact that Lyndsay's non-naturalistic enactment of masculinity does not arouse Blackwood's suspicion supports Kessler and McKenna's contention that once the "displayer" creates the initial gender attribution, it is the "perceiver" who does most of the ongoing work of maintaining it. Subsequently, "[e]very act of the displayer's is filtered through the initial gender attribution which the perceiver has made" (pp. 134-35). Yet we shall see below that there are limits to the perceiver's cooperation. Interestingly, these occur when the object of perception is not Mary Diana Dods passing as Walter Sholto Douglas but Mary Diana Dods (passing as) herself.


Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine LVIII, x (December 1821): 733, 732.


Randolph Trumbach, "London's Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture," in Julia Epstein and Kristina Straub, eds., Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity New York and London: Routledge, 1991) p. 112. It is intriguing to consider this passage in the review and the quotation from Eliza Rennie that follows in the text in light of Trumbach's contention that a new two-sex, four-gender system comes into existence in the eighteenth century. While the "mollies" to whom Trumbach and the anonymous reviewer refer clearly qualify as a third gender, Dods's status is more difficult to determine. Since Rennie does not associate Dods's cross-dressing with sexual desire for women, Rennie does not seem to see Dods as belonging to the new illegitimate gender for women: the "tommy" or "sapphist," which, as Trumbach points out, was "not fully incorporated into the new gender paradigm until the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries" (113). Yet nor does Rennie seem to consider Dods a hermaphrodite, which constituted the third sex in the earlier three-sex, two-gender model. As described by Rennie, Dods falls into the gap between the two paradigms and seems rather to be conceived in terms of sex- and gender dimorphism.


Eliza Rennie, Traits of Character; Being Twenty-Five Years' Literary and Personal Recollections, by a Contemporary, 2 volumes (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1860) pp. 2: 207-09. Further references to this work will be given parenthetically in the text, cited as Rennie.


Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990) pp. 24-25; 136-37. Many readers take Butler's emphasis to be on gender performance as play, a view which Butler characterizes in the preface to Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" as a "misapprehension," for it "would restore a figure of a choosing subject—humanist—at the center of a project whose emphasis on construction seems to be quite opposed to such a notion" ([New York: Routledge, 1993], x, xii; henceforth cited as Bodies). There is much to be said about this misapprehension and Butler's effort to correct it and thereby in some measure control the reading of her text. Although this impulse is understandable on the part of any author, it is clearly at odds with Butler's deconstructive approach. But even given this contradiction, what is striking, unusual, responsible, and courageous here is Butler's willingness to question her own authorial instincts and recognize that her corrective effort itself "appears destined to produce a new set of misapprehensions" that are not only inevitable but also possibly "productive" (Bodies xii). However, on my reading, the most radical moment in Gender Trouble concerns neither these issues nor gender performance as play, important as they may be, but gender as the invocation or resignification of conventions. From this perspective, drag as imitation already inhabits the original, which consequently loses its privileged status. Thus while the section on drag plays an important strategic role in Gender Trouble, it is important less in itself than as a means of denaturalizing "originary" gender. Consequently, I take the target of the work as broader than it is often understood to be. It includes ubiquitous gender practices instead of limiting itself to the specialized and localized practice of drag. Finally, the fact that Doddy's impersonations of Lyndsay and Walter Sholto Douglas were taken as naturalistic supports Butler's argument on the conventionality and imitativeness of gender, which, by implication, make gender performance as play possible. When Leo Bersani criticizes the privileged position of drag and its claimed power of subversion in Butler's work, he raises an additional question. His primary concern is whether parody is genuinely subversive in the sense of having the capacity to overthrow a system, and he is deeply skeptical about the matter: "It is, in any case, extremely doubtful that resignification, or redeployment, or hyperbolic miming, will ever overthrow anything. These mimetic activities are too closely imbricated in the norms they continue." As Bersani points out, Butler uses "subversion" "to mean something much weaker than [overthrow], referring to behavior that undermines generally accepted principles" (Homos [Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995], 51). Michele M. Moody-Adams raises similar objections from a feminist and critical race perspective in her review of Butler's Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997). See Michele M. Moody-Adams, "Fighting Fire with Fire," The Women's Review of Books 15.1 (October 1997): 13-14. This difference between Butler and Bersani reflects their divergent positions on Foucault. Butler for her part frequently declares her allegiance to Foucault and specifically his insight that resistance is inevitably caught up with the power it resists, as when, for example, she writes: "If the rules governing signification not only restrict, but enable the assertion of alternative domains of cultural intelligibility, i.e., new possibilities for gender that contest the rigid codes of hierarchical binarisms, then it is only within the practices of repetitive signifying that a subversion of identity becomes possible" (Gender Trouble 145). Bersani just as frequently problematizes Foucault's positions. See especially the second and third chapters of Homos, "The Gay Absence" and the "Gay Daddy." While Bersani accuses Butler and Foucault of not being radical enough because they remain within the system they challenge, Butler raises a prior question that Bersani neglects, namely, how to conceptualize politics and particularly on what level to place its effectivity: "The deconstruction of identity," she writes, "is not the deconstruction of politics; rather it establishes as political the very terms through which identity is articulated" (Gender Trouble 148). It seems to me that the most profound debate between Bersani and Butler regards precisely their conceptions of politics. Social constructionist studies of gender generally agree with Butler that gender is always constructed and performed, not only by deliberate imitators but by everyone. For two such studies that, unlike Butler, devote close attention to particular cases and sites, see Kessler and McKenna 126-27 and Shapiro 257.


Harriet Garnett, letter to Julia (Garnett) Pertz; November 13, 1827. Pertz Papers, bMS Eng 1304.2 (10), folder 1. Houghton Library, Harvard University.


Below, it will become equally clear that I see Bennett precisely as attempting that recuperation and that I part company with her on this point.


See R. Turner Wilcox, The Dictionary of Costume (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969) for the spencer worn in the 1790's (p. 330) and for the Caroline spencer, which was a revival of the women's spencer of the 1790's (p. 63). C. Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington, Handbook of English Costume in the Nineteenth Century, illustrations by Phillis Cunnington, Cecil Everitt, and Catherine Lucas (Boston: Plays, 1959, 1966, 1970) report that the spencer was fashionable from 1800 to 1810, although it was still worn from 1810-1820, and then passed into use by the elderly and country people (pp. 72, 91, 112, 142, 146, 176, 361, 362, 376, and 392). Presumably, Rennie is so astonished that Dr. Kitchener wears a spencer because the garment has become unfashionable by then.


Here, I am attempting to work against what Sally O'Driscoll has recently called the invisibility of the femme ("Invisible Femmes," MLA Convention, December 28, 1999). As many scholars have noted, historically, students of female sexuality have had difficulty explaining the desire of feminine women for other women; the desire of butch women for femmes has appeared much more natural and transparent. Esther Newton, for example, notes that Havelock Ellis could fit the class of "feminine inverts" into his theory of inversion only by "an awkward compromise." Since this type of woman does not exhibit "congenital factors," his favorite explanation for homosexuality, she is dropped from consideration (Esther Newton, "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radcliffe Hall and the New Woman," reprinted in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin Bauml Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr. [New York: NAL, 1989], 288. Originally published, in somewhat different form, in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 9.4 [Summer 1984]: 357-75).


Isabel Douglas, letter to William Blackwood, July 14, 1826 (?). Blackwood Papers, MS 4016, f. 253r. National Library of Scotland.


Wright writes to some important members of that circle: "The D[ouglases]'s account of Mary does not surprise me. She did not strike me as a person of sensibility and my first impression was decided disappointment. I resisted and lost this, and became interested in and for herself . . . . The D's account may be all true (and my own recalled impression would rather go to confirm it) but it makes much against them. Not only have I seen them evince the fondest tenderness for Mary but Isabel's letters, which I have seen, are in a strain of the fondest and most dependent friendship. Deficient sensibility is a negative quality but hypocrisy is a positive one of the worst character. 'Tis a bad and hollow world my Harriet as it is now . . . ," Frances (Wright) D'Arusmont, (unsigned) letter to Julia and Harriet Garnett, March 20, 1828. Pertz Papers, bMS Eng 1304 (25). Houghton Library, Harvard University.


The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-1844, edited by Paula R. Feldman and Diana Scott-Kilvert, 2 vols. (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1987) 2:516-17. Subsequent references to this work will be cited parenthetically in the text as MWS Journals. The editors identify "Isabel" in this entry as Isabel Baxter Booth (MWS Journals 2:516, n.7). However, the fact that when Mary Shelley died, she left Isabel Baxter Booth, whom the editors call "her old friend," "50 pounds per annum and a suit of mourning" (letter from Sir Percy Florence Shelley to Mrs. Booth, [1851], Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Shelley adds. d. 5, fol. 109; cited in MWS Journals 2:516, n. 7; permission to quote granted by the Bodleian Library, Oxford University) seems inconsistent with the strong suggestion in the entry that "Isabel" has dropped Mary Shelley. The two Isabels constitute another case of mistaken identity of the type with which this essay is concerned, and which one is the subject of this entry cannot be settled with absolute certainty. However, given the history of Mary Shelley's relationship with the two women, Bennett's reading of this "Isabel" as Isabella Robinson (Douglas) seems more plausible than that of the editors.


Mrs. Eliza [Rennie] Walker, "An Evening at Dr. Kitchener's," in Friendship's Offering; and Winter's Wreath: A Christmas and New Year's Present, for 1842, ed. Leitch Ritchie (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1842) p. 246.


To Jane Williams Hogg, June 28-29, 1828, 2:51; and August 9, 1828, MWS Letters, 2:55.


In the first of a pair of letters, Dods tells of her lover-like impatience to see Mary Shelley again: "Counting on my fingers last night in thy company like a child looking forward to its promised holiday, I felt something approaching to pain that it would be five days ere we should meet again—Wilt thou, meine Liebling of thine own graciousness shorten this period one day?" (M D Dods, letter to Mary Shelley, [dated Monday, between June 1824 and July 1827]. Oxford, Bodleian Library, [Abinger Deposit], Dep.c.516/11. I would like to acknowledge Lord Abinger as owner of the Abinger Papers. Permission to quote from the Abinger Papers here and elsewhere in this essay has been granted through the Bodleian Library). When read with a letter written a few days later, this letter seems to use the language of female romantic love and friendship playfully and perhaps ironically; for, by Thursday, Dods has forgotten the time of the assignation which seemed to preoccupy her: "It would indeed have been something surprisingly singular if I could have forgotten the date of an engagement with you my Pretty. but I have been so puzzled and stupefied by several other arrangements for this week, all exceedingly disagreeable to me, that I can offer a good reason for this letter of mine—for the life of me, I cannot recollect whether I am to leave home at half past one, two, or half past two on Monday" (MD Dods, letter to Mary Shelley, [dated only Thursday, between June 1824 and July 1827]. Oxford, Bodleian Library, [Abinger Deposit], Dep.c.516/11).


Bennett bases herself on two intriguing letters by Mary Shelley. On August 28, 1827, Mary Shelley writes to Jane Hogg: "I shall certainly decline only haec & hoc dilecta vel dilectum." As Bennett, who is here the editor, points out in her note to the passage, "Mary Shelley declines the participle of diligo (the verb meaning 'to love above all others, to single out for love') only in the feminine and the neuter genders." Except for an unidentified woman referred to as "N—," the implication is that the author "has no use for 'especially beloved' in the masculine gender" (MWS Letters 1: 573, and 1:573n9). On October 12, 1835, Mary Shelley writes to Edward John Trelawney: "Ten years ago I was so ready to give myself away—& being afraid of men, I was apt to get tousy-mousy for women" (MWS Letters 2: 256). In Mary Diana Dods, Bennett glosses the odd term "tousy-mousy": "According to contemporary polite usage, 'to touse and mouse' meant 'to pull around roughly.'" See Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English, ed. Thomas Wright (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1851). A variant, "towsy-mousy," was also slang for the female pudendum. See Slang and Its Analogues, eds. J. S. Farmer and W. E. Henley (1st ed., 1890-1904; repr. New York: Arno Press, 1970) (p. 286n18). The OED defines "tousy" or "towsy" as "disheveled, unkempt, tousled; shaggy, rough" and notes that it also occurs in combinations. However, Bennett in the end rejects any suggestion that Mary Shelley was ever sexually attracted to women.


Mary Shelley and Dods share further similarities. Neither writes under her own name, and both get meager financial support from male authority figures, in Dods's case her father and in Mary Shelley's case her father-in-law. Both are forced by the inadequacy of that support to write for a living.


William Blackwood, letter to David Lyndsay, August 18, 1821. Blackwood Papers, Magazine Letter Book 2, MS 30305, p. 133. National Library of Scotland.


The similarity in the names of the two earls, who are cousins, also contributes to the confusion. One is George Douglas and the other George Sholto Douglas.


I am playing on the title of one of the stories sent to Blackwood's in 1826 by someone using the name of Mrs. Sholto Douglas, who indicates she is not the author. In the tale, the fictional narrator traces his development from infancy to manhood as a succession of separate and discontinuous selves. As Bennett points out (p. 160), the story has obvious resonances with Mary Diana Dods's self-transformations, especially since it begins with a playful reference to a story by Miss Mitford that traces the "transmigrations of the female part of humanity in its progress through childhood, girlhood, and womanhood, to marriage and old age" ("My Transmogrifications," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 20 [August 1826]: 152). The authorship of the letter and the story and the topic of the story raise complex issues of identity, proper names, and signatures that are discussed above. Let it be noted that Doddy's transmogrifications include her final collapse into madness, which Mary Shelley describes as a fundamental transformation of self: "What D. [Doddy] now is, I will not describe in a letter—one only trusts that the diseased body acts on the diseased mind, & that both may be at rest ere long" (To Jane Williams Hogg, June 28-29, 1828, MWS Letters, 2:51).


David Lyndsay, letter to William Blackwood, September 1, 1823. Blackwood papers, MS 4010, f. 235v. National Library of Scotland. David Lyndsay, letter to William Blackwood, January 15, 1822. Blackwood Papers, MS 4009, 1822, f. 7v. National Library of Scotland. Bennett infers that before her father's marriage, Mary Diana Dods and her sister Georgiana lived with their father in his elegant house in London, apparently sometimes remaining there when he returned to Scotland (see also A. Aubin, letter to Lord Morton, July 5, 1807. Morton Papers, GD 150/3509, item 9. National Archive of Scotland). Yet it seems that while she was recognized for a time as the Earl of Morton's daughter in England, in Scotland Lord Morton carefully covered his relationship to her (and her sister) (Bennett 194-95, 204).


On names and their social function, Allucquère Rosanne Stone notes: "Names themselves weren't codified as personal descriptors until the Domesday Book. . . . Retaining the same name throughout life is part of an evolving strategy of producing particular kinds of subjects. In order to stabilize a name in such a way that it becomes a permanent descriptor, its function must either be split off from the self, or else the self must acquire a species of obduracy and permanence to match that of the name. In this manner a permanent name facilitates control . . ." (A. R. Stone 46).


To John Howard Payne, September 25, 1827, MWS Letters, 2: 11-12.


To John Howard Payne, October 1, 1827, MWS Letters, 2:12.


Handwriting comes into question as a criterion to establish identity in another instance, when two different people write the same script. The Reverend Marcus Dods's the younger's handwriting is indistinguishable from Dods's, but the Reverend and Doddy cannot be the same person, because he writes in 1896 and 1897, when she would had to have been long dead. See Marcus Dods the younger, letter to William Blackwood, December 28, 1896. Blackwood Papers, MS 4643, ff. 212 r and v. National Library of Scotland. Marcus Dods the younger, letter to William Blackwood, March 3, 1897. Blackwood Papers, MS 4658, f. 7. National Library of Scotland. Marcus Dods the younger, letter to William Blackwood, April 28, 1897. Blackwood Papers, MS 4658, f. 9. National Library of Scotland. Marcus Dods the younger, letter to William Blackwood, June 30, 1897. Blackwood Papers, MS 4658, f. 11 r and v. National Library of Scotland. Marcus Dods the younger, letter to William Blackwood, July 27, 1897. Blackwood Papers, MS 4658, f. 13 r. National Library of Scotland. Marcus Dods the younger, letter to William Blackwood, September 3, 1897. Blackwood Papers, MS 4658, f. 15 r. National Library of Scotland.


See Jacques Derrida, "Signature, Event, Context," in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982) pp. 315, 324, 327-30.


See also the following passage from Bennett: "A full year had passed since I began looking for the two men. Certainly, I had more information about Lyndsay. But the information that Lyndsay wasn't Lyndsay added to the problem. And I had a Mr. Walter Sholto Douglas who unquestionably received an annuity from the earl of Morton—but he wasn't in the earl's will" (p. 73).


Bennett's blindness before her major breakthrough is part of a much larger phenomenon. As Terry Castle puts it: "When it comes to lesbians—or so I argue in the following chapters—many people have trouble seeing what's in front of them" (The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (New York: Columbia UP, 1993) p. 2.


In Man and Woman Boy and Girl: The Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1972), Money and his co-author Anke Ehrhardt cite Stoller's Sex and Gender; On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity (New York: Science House, 1968) when they write: "Self-concept is by its very nature gender-differentiated. It is often referred to as the core gender identity" (176). Money and Stoller do not always agree on how well sex-change surgery works or exactly how patients should be screened for surgery, and their differences on these matters emerge sharply in Money and Ambinder, and Robert J. Stoller, "The Results Are Unclear," as John Paul Brody notes in his commentary to the two articles. All three pieces are collected in Controversy in Psychiatry, cited in note 8, above. For Stoller, see 846-55; for Brady's commentary, see pp. 856-57. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler briefly critiques Stoller's assertion of a "gender core" as it is articulated in Presentations of Gender (New Haven: Yale UP, 1985) pp. 11-14, and her critique is also relevant to Sex and Gender. According to Butler, the "gender core" is the mere "appearance of an abiding substance or gendered self," and it is actually "produced by the regulation of attributes along culturally established lines of coherence" (Gender Trouble 24, 155n38). For a more extensive critique of Money, Stoller, and the larger field of gender sexology, see Irvine's excellent discussion (237-41). My discussion in this entire paragraph is indebted to Irvine.


John Money and Patricia Tucker, Sexual Signatures: On Being a Man or a Woman (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975) p. 231; quoted in Irvine 238. In contrast to this view, the present-day transgender movement argues precisely for a loosening of gender categories that would allow for possibilities such as women with beards.


On gender clinics and their dichotomous and fundamentalist approach to gender in the treatment of transsexualism, see, in addition to Irvine, Shapiro 254, S. Stone 290-91, and Anne Bolin, "Transcending and Transgendering: Male-to-Female Transsexuals, Dichotomy and Diversity," in Gilbert Herdt, ed., Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History (New York: Zone Books, 1993, 1996) p. 462, where Bolin quotes Dallas Denny's "Politics of Diagnosis and a Diagnosis of Politics," Chrysalis Quarterly 1.3 (1992): 17. These studies suggest an unexpected reinterpretation of the marked conservatism of male-to-female transsexuals on the subject of gender. The candidates for sex reassignment surgery so consistently expressed feelings of stereotypical femininity along with the conviction of being a woman trapped in a man's body because they had read the medical literature and learned from it that this was the script they needed to reproduce in order to get the surgery. See S. Stone 291, for example.


The following passage is one among many where Bennett inscribes her own desire for her biographical subject into the text: "I stepped into a house of mirrors. Inside, moving ahead in the half-light, leading me on, were the three women, their long skirts and petticoats rustling as they hurried along. At times, they paused, one, two, or three together, seeing themselves stretched out in one mirror, reduced in another. As I came up behind, trying to put myself in the same frame, to see what they saw, they slipped away" (Bennett 100). The scene that Bennett stages here corresponds closely to Slavoj Zizek's gloss on the Lacanian subject's pursuit of the object-cause of desire, the objet a, in Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1991) p. 4.

Auteur : Geraldine Friedman
Titre : Pseudonymity, Passing, and Queer Biography: The Case of Mary Diana Dods
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 23, août 2001
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005985ar
DOI : 10.7202/005985ar

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