I recently came across something rather intriguing when reading Angela Steidele’s Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist (2018). Steidele refers to a holiday in Scotland that Anne Lister took with her friend Sibella MacLean in 1828, but rather tantalisingly tells the reader that only heavily censored transcripts of Anne’s diaries for this period of time have ever been published. Steidele tells us that Anne met the rather aristocratic Sibella MacLean (daughter of the 15th Laird of Coll, in the Inner Hebrides) in 1820 and with an uncharacteristic lack of success, had been wooing her by letter since then. Sibella cancelled an invitation to Anne in 1825, having heard gossip about her. Finally, In 1828 Sibella finally agreed to Anne coming to visit her in Edinburgh, followed by a tour of Scotland together.
Some typed transcriptions from this period of time were produced by Vivien Ingham and Phyllis Ramsden who apparently read all of Anne Lister’s diaries between 1958 and 1969, but the majority of the coded sections were cut out and were described as ‘personal’ or ‘of no interest.’ Ramsden later clarified that those sections were of ‘no historical interest whatever and excruciatingly tedious to the modern mind.’ When the Helena Whitbread and Jill Liddington transcriptions came along in the 80s and 90s it became apparent that other passages described as such by Ramsden were explicit descriptions of sex.
It was therefore with much excitement that I embarked on a full transcription of that Scottish holiday. I’ve not finished it all yet, but I can tell you this… it’s typical Lister and I’ve been laughing out loud as I’ve been transcribing it (as well as getting a bit hot under the collar). Watch this space!