Who Was Mary Dolan?

marydolanphtoSometimes we don’t realize who our favorite authors really are. For years, when people asked me to list mine, the list included Ayn Rand, Emily Bronte, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Heinlein, Adam Corby, J.D. Salinger, Muriel Spark, Betty Smith and a few others who changed from time to time. Mary Dolan did not figure in that list. Why? Because I couldn’t even remember her name. But this did not mean that she had not left a lasting impression on me. It was just that I took her for granted. I believed, foolishly, that she would always be there for me, her book waiting to be re-read, available at a moment’s notice in the local library.

I could no more think to name her as one of my favorite authors than I could think to name the person who thought up the first book of Samuel. If, indeed, there was only one such person.

It was the subject of her book that I remembered: Hannibal of Carthage. I did not even remember the title, although it was the same as the subject. It was a generic title by what I thought at the time was a generic author of historical novels. Yes, the book was fiction. But she did not invent the plot. She only reported it. The plot was living history. How much credit should she get for telling us the truth?

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Today, I understand how rare that is, and I also see what craft and dedication went into fashioning that book.  She understood the real issue that is at stake in Hannibal’s undertaking and the true reason he was defeated: that his own most powerful countrymen and those he sought  to liberate among the Roman vassals did not in the end support the undertaking. You can lead a man to freedom, but you cannot make him take it. You can give your country your all, but you will not always win support. It may be hard to build an empire, but it is harder still to fight an empire without in turn trying to build another one.

And in her skimpy, self-effacing introduction, she also reveals some other things she knew:

“They were Phoenicians, and they shared a common ancestry with Abraham. Despite their epic enterprise on land and sea, no literature survives to shelter their good name. Yet they had admirable qualities, and they appreciated their audacious leader. The Carthaginian majorities did not fail Hannibal. It was the ruling few who undermined him and betrayed him. In the Third Punic War the Carthaginians displayed the ultimate in gallantry. They held out to the death. Their town was sacked and burned and razed, and by tradition, sown with salt. The English, French, and Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Irish and the Welsh that have inherited Semitic features from the Lord knows where, have learned their ancient history from the words of Rome. The ties of language, it appears, are stronger than the ties of blood.”

Not only is this true, but also it often scans! Many of the sentences arrange themselves into perfect iambs:

Their town/ was sacked/ and burned, and razed/ and by/ tradi/tion sown/with salt./

How perfect is that? Who was this woman whose prose was almost poetry, her words like prophecies? How is it that I overlooked her contribution, thinking it was only the subject matter and not what she had to say about it?

She writes: “The reader is pursuing here more than a brilliant general, more than a gallant soldier. He is pursuing a much rarer incarnation — a true patriot. It was without the taint, so seldom absent, of a personal ambition.”

Is it possible that she was like that, too? So intent on the task of telling her story, that she did not make the reader notice who it was that told it?

In this day and age when every author is compelled to sell not his books, his words, his writing or his message, but his own personal brand, isn’t that refreshing? She did not want to make us think of her. She wanted to assign all the glory that he’d earned to Hannibal.

But I still want to know, who was she?

Biographical Conjectures

I don’t know the answer, but I do have a theory, hanging on a few loose facts. Although the name of the author on the title page is “Mary Dolan”, on the copyright page she is listed as Marie M. Dolan. The copyright date is 1955. The Publisher is MacMillan.

I think I found her passport.


 Did she die intestate and without any living heirs? How did her personal records come to be floating around in cyberspace? Is she buried in a pauper’s grave somewhere? Or did she live a comfortable life, and was the obscurity that surrounded her something that she wanted for herself?

Here is what we learn about her from www.passportland.com:

Marie Margaret Dolan (5 July 1906, Wilmette, Illinois – 21 April 1997, New York City, NY) was the daughter of Edward B and Mary C Dolan.

In 1910, she was living with her parents at 824 Oakwood Drive, New Trier, Illinois.

In 1930, she was living with her widowed mother at 29 West End Avenue, Chicago. Her occupation looks like something to do with advertising.

On 30 June 1937, she sailed from Cherbourg to New York on the SS Europa. Marie Dolan was living at 110 Morningside Drive, New York, NY (an apartment block close to Columbia University).

In 1950, Marie Dolan was living at 110 Morningside Drive, New York, NY, with her mother Mary C Dolan. Her 1950 trip took her by sea to Europe, arriving in Piraeus, Greece on 14 May, then Italy, France and Spain. She sailed back to New York on the SS LaGuardia from Gibraltar on 21/22 June, arriving 28 June 1950. She was single.

I also know that she is listed in the catalog of Columbia University for the year 1930/31. Was she a gifted classics scholar who retired early and then went in 1950 to visit all the sites that she describes in her book, the better to prepare for its eventual publication in 1955?


Was she a lonely spinster living with her mother at the time of her 1950 European trip? Did her mother die sometime between 1950 and 1955? She dedicated the book to her: “To the memory of my mother, who was herself a person of good courage.” Herself a person of good courage? Implying what? Like Hannibal? Or like Mary Dolan?


Marie M. Dolan died on the 21st of Apri in  1997 in New York City. Where is she buried? Who  came to the funeral? Who is her intellectual heir? Or didn’t she need one to spread the faith of what she believed in? Did she perhaps trust that despite the fact that the Grand Prairie Memorial Library, and many others like it, unshelved her books as early as 1990, that someday soon a champion would arise to bring them back to light? Or did she think the seed was sown, and was she content to let the book die with her, as long as someone who had read it long ago recalled the lessons learned?

Copyright 2012 Aya Katz

Books About Hannibal


About Aya Katz

Aya Katz is the administrator of Pubwages. When she is not busy administering, she sometimes also writes posts like a regular user.
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14 Responses to Who Was Mary Dolan?

  1. Sweetbearies says:

    It is interesting to hear the investigative work you did into the life of Mary Dolan, which leaves me intrigued about her writings.

    I do not have one specific author that is my favorite, but there are several that made great impact on me in my early years. I liked Charles Nordhoff and Norman Hall for writing The Bounty trilogy, which I was mesmerized by at the age of thirteen. A learned years later that they played around a bit with the facts, and they went along with Fletcher Christian’s family assertion that Bligh was a tyrant, but the actual historical record shows he was not exactly that. William Bligh was very fastidious about cleanliness and discipline, but he never was able to build rapport with the people who served him, thus many of his problems.

    By reading Carolyn Alexander and Glynn Christian’s biographies on Bligh and Christian respectively, I learned a bit more. All these years later I still do consider Pitcairn’s Island my favorite novel because it was the first one I read with extreme enthusiasm, so even though Nordhoff and Hall played around with the facts, I still enjoyed the characters they created. I really enjoy South Pacific history and fiction though, and I will read anything on the subject.

  2. Aya Katz says:

    Thanks, Sweetbearies, for your comment and for sharing some of your favorite authors. Have you read any biographies about Charles Nordhoff and Norman Hall as a result of having them as favorite authors? Or was it just enough for you to read the books they wrote?

    I’m not saying that Mary Dolan is my one and only favorite author, just that up until recently, I did not give her the credit she deserved for the contribution that she made to my life. When I was a child, I cared only for the book and seldom for the author. But some authors called attention to themselves, like Ayn Rand, who advertised on the back of her books that you could join her ideological movement. Or, sometimes someone else creates a legend around an author’s life, the way Charlotte Bronte did for Emily after her sister’s death, and Elizabeth Gaskell did for all the Brontes. When this happens, an author’s life becomes like a novel in its own right, and people sometimes forget the books and remember the authors. With celebrities like Byron and Shelley, their personality and exploits during their lifetime almost eclipsed their poetry.

    But with an author like Mary Dolan, who is quiet and circumspect and lacking in any boastful arrogance, it’s easy to forget the book even had an author. And that’s too bad, if it means that the book will also be forgotten once the author dies.

    They say we have to build our brand and sell ourselves and not our books. If that is what is required, I think that I should start selling Mary Dolan as a romantic and mysterious person, just so the impressionable people at the library will re-shelve the book so that another generation has access to it as well.

    • Sweetbearies says:

      With Charles Nordhoff and Norman Hall I enjoyed what they wrote about Mutiny on the Bounty and Pitcairn, but I was not really induced to read anything else about them. Years later when I joined the Friends of Pitcairn discussion group on Yahoo I found out more about their back story, and actually read a few biographical websites about these authors online. Actually one of the people on the group pointed when I started a MySpace page about Mutiny on the Bounty (this was five years ago) that Charles Nordhoff was buried nearby where I live in the city of Redlands, and that I should photograph his tombstone for my page. I decided not to do that because my interest in Mutiny on the Bounty is something I just do in my spare time, and I have never been fond of hanging out in graveyards. Actually I refused to get out of the car when my family went to go visit where our ancestors were buried in Kansas, and everyone sort of thought I was funny for that.

      I am intrigued to hear more about Mary Dolan now, and I think it is a positive step you are helping to reconstitute her legacy. I think I will see if I can read some of her books.

      • Aya Katz says:

        It was great that there was a “Friends of Pitcairn” discussion group on Yahoo for you to join. Having a supportive fan community can work wonders. Are you still active there? If you ever write a spin-off to the books you love, your fellow fans are the ones who will come through for you when you are marketing it.

        As far as I know, Mary Dolan only ever wrote — or at least published — one book. It was republished in 1958 under Avon as a paperback and the cover became a lurid picture of a scary dominator and the blurb was cheesy and completely misleading:
        “He ravaged half the civilized world with his bloodthirsty cruelty, then built an empire of exotic splendor and enlightenment. And he himself was conquered by a tempestuous daughter of Rome, the seat of power he had sworn to destroy.”
        She probably hated it, but had no control over the weird things the marketing people do in order to appeal to stupid readers, who are a larger market share, apparently, than people who have sense or reason.

        If you do read the book, go for the hardback, because I wouldn’t put it past them to revise the text as well as the blurb.

        • Sweetbearies says:

          Hopefully I can find the one book Marie Dolan did publish. It is silly how book publishers use overdone covers to try and sell books, and I often feel that way after a book is turned into a movie, and then they use the actors to try and sell it.

          The Friends of Pitcairn group is still around on Yahoo, but I stopped visiting it once I began my own ventures with writing and blogging. The people who run it are extremely dedicated, and they even have conferences on the subject, and one man has his PhD. on this subject, runs a center about it at a university, and has visited Pitcairn numerous times. I mostly just enjoy reading what others have to say on the subject because so many people have written dissertations and fiction about Mutiny on the Bounty and Pitcairn, and I really have nothing else to add. The novel I am working, slowly, is mostly a fictional novel in modern times, that takes place in California and Hawaii.

          • Aya Katz says:

            Sweetbearies, is “Hannibal of Carthage” by Mary Dolan still available in the library closest to you? If they didn’t unshelve it there, there might still be hope for the book.

            Even if a book is set in modern times, such as your own novel which is set in California and Hawaii, it is best to find some kind of built in readership, a fan base so to speak. I am still struggling with that issue for my own books.

  3. Sweetbearies says:

    I discovered that a local university has Hannibal of Carthage to look at in the special collections department, but this volume does not check out. I will have to buy a copy on Amazon. However, at least this book is still some where students can use :).

    I have a feeling the fan base for your book Vacuum County will come along. You have been promoting it, so it is probably just a matter of time.

    • Aya Katz says:

      I’m so glad the local university you found has placed Hannibal of Carthage in a special collection. I suppose that once a book becomes this rare, it needs to be treated like a valuable document. I wonder who currently holds the copyright to the book, as I would gladly re-issue it under the auspices of Inverted-A Press. However, it is still in copyright, so I cannot do it without permission from the proper person or persons.

      It is too early to tell in the case of Vacuum County. The readership will need time to grow.

  4. Bob Slattery says:

    I knew Mary Dolan fairly well. She was sister to my Godfather, her brother Hallett, who was close friends with my father. If you’d like to have my recollections, let me know and I’ll tell you what I can recall.

    • Mary Jane Larsen says:

      I believe your family
      is where they spent the
      holidays.would love to hear from
      Bob Slattery.I have the
      original copy of her book.
      she had another book in
      her computer that intruders
      they trusted probably
      destroyed.Hallett paid for
      my nursing school and
      my sisters teaching degree.

    • Cathy Pendola says:

      Mr. Slattery, maybe your father was the person Marie and Hallett used to get together with at Christmas. They talked about friends in Connecticut that they spent the holidays with. My mother’s father (Slyvester Lynch) and Marie’s mom (Mame Dolan) were brother and sister. We kept in close contact with Marie and her brother Hallett for years, and as they got older, we wanted them to move closer to family, but they stayed in New York and I believe there was a Monsignor who looked after their needs. We were not advised what went on in their lives after a certain point. I have no idea where either one of them are buried. It makes me sad that things got very disconnected as they got older. I have fond memories of them. Special people.

  5. admin says:

    I would love to hear all about Mary Dolan. I sent you an email message.

  6. Mary Jane Larsen says:

    Marie and Hallett
    were my cousins.My
    sister was named for her
    mother and is a gifted writer
    too.We tried so very hard
    to get them to come to
    Illinois in their later yrs.
    Thanks to a very dishonest
    Msgr.and Lawyers who
    were irish catholics and
    they trusted in New York
    they were afraid to come.
    Marie was moved to a retire
    ment home then died and
    buried before we knew
    anything.I wish I at least
    had a holy card from her funeral

  7. admin says:

    I was so pleased to see all these new comments by people who in fact knew Mary Dolan personally. If any of you can shed more light about her life, her work, the books she wrote, or the intellectual legacy that she left behind, that would be very helpful.

    Also, I have sent each of you individual emails where I asked specific questions. Any information you can provide about this exceptional individual and the cultural legacy she left behind would greatly be appreciated.

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