How awesome was Anne Lister? She lived from 1791 to 1840. In some ways very much a woman of her time and class – concerned with status, respectability, wealth and keen to conserve the existing social order – in other ways she smashed through societal norms. In an era when women were expected to aim for little more than being wives and mothers, she declared early on in her life that she would never marry a man and was clear in her own mind that she ‘loved only the fairer sex.’ Her diaries show her growing self-knowledge and drive to be true to what she saw as her God-given nature, even if her unconventionality at times exposed her to ridicule and rejection. She was determined to be independent and in charge of her own life. Intelligent and curious-minded she educated herself and read widely on many topics, many of them considered unsuitable for women. She ran her own estate, business and financial affairs.
Despite not having the vote, she involved herself in politics. She travelled extensively, at times travelling alone. Terrier-like, despite her small build she was incredibly fit and active, walking for miles and even climbing mountains on her travels. She expressed her individuality through her dress, from the age of 18 always garbed in black. Perhaps what she’s most known for in the immediate aftermath of the TV drama Gentleman Jack, she unashamedly (although in secret) enjoyed sex with women. Her unique spirit demanded expression; that she was able to do that and still more-or-less maintain her position as a respected landowner of an ‘old’ family makes her doubly impressive. She was the real Gentleman Jack.
Anne Lister wrote a detailed diary almost every day from 1816 until her death in 1840 (some earlier diary entries exist from 1806 onwards, but they are sporadic and much less detailed). The parts of her life she wanted to keep private – largely relating to sex and relationships, money and gossip – she wrote in a code of her own devising that she called her crypthand.
One of my favourite parts of Anne’s diaries (beginning 15 April 1816) is when, after being alerted by the cook to some shabby looking men stealing the hens at 4am one morning, she goes out the next day and buys a horse pistol. She tests it out the window (‘The report was tremendous. It bounded out of my hand, forced itself thro’ the window, broke the lead & 2 panes of glass. My hand felt stunned for some time,’) and the next time there is a disturbance at night she puts her head out of the window and threatens to ‘blast their brains out if they did not immediately go about their business.’
The main purpose of this website is to present transcriptions of the diaries of Anne Lister in an uncut, largely unedited format for the edification and enjoyment of all those with an interest in (obsession with) this awesome woman.
There have already been some brilliant books published by Helena Whitbread and Jill Liddington containing their excellent transcriptions of Anne Lister’s diaries for 1817-1824 (Secret Diaries of Anne Lister, Helena Whitbread); 1824-1826 (No Priest but Love, Helena Whitbread); 1832 (Nature’s Domain: Anne Lister and the Landscape of Desire, Jill Liddington); and 1833-1836 (Female Fortune: The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings 1833-36: Land, Gender and Authority, Jill Liddington). However, due to the sheer volume of writing produced by Anne Lister over her lifetime (estimated to be 4 million words, or 6,600 pages), it was necessary for Whitbread and Liddington to select only parts (albeit what were considered the most interesting or relevant parts) of what Anne Lister had written for inclusion. I really enjoyed reading Helena Whitbread and Jill Liddington’s books, but I was left with a burning curiosity to read more, read everything written by Anne Lister, really know her. And so I began (on 23 June 2019) to read and decode the original diary pages myself. Not an easy task (and likely to keep me occupied for many years) but strangely exciting to see the words of this amazing person who lived 200(ish) years ago emerging from the page…