How to read Anne Lister's original diaries The Real Anne Lister Blog

Where to find Anne Lister’s original diaries and how to read them

Part 2: How to read Anne’s plainhand

I’ve already made a post on where you can read Anne Lister’s original handwritten diaries online and how to read her crypthand ( https://iknowmyownheart.co.uk/blog-post/where-to-find-anne-listers-original-diaries-and-how-to-read-them-part-1/ ).

Funnily enough, lot of people (me included) actually find it harder to read Anne’s plainhand (normal handwriting) than her crypthand (writing in code). That said, with practice it does get easier and I’m pleased to be able to say that I can now read the majority (although not all) of her scrawl.

I’m therefore delighted to be able to share the following ten tips:

1) Zoom in!
Maybe it’s too obvious to mention, but zooming in and making the writing bigger definitely helps.

2) Context is everything
Don’t worry too much about being able to read every single word to begin with. Work on a few sentences at a time, writing or typing out the words that you can read and leaving blanks for the words you don’t know. When you read over it again you should be able to work out at least some of the missing words based on the context of the surrounding words.

3) Ye olde ‘ye’
Anne spelled words such as ‘the,’ ‘them,’ ‘their,’ ‘there,’ and ‘this’ with a ‘y’ rather than ‘th.’ For example:

The

Them
Themselves
Their
There
Therefore

Then
This
Thus
These

Anne and her contemporaries would not have pronounced these words with a ‘y’ sound at the beginning, but the same as we do now. The reason for the use of the letter ‘y’ to spell these words is fascinating (if you’re a nerd). Originally these English words were spelled with the letter ‘þ’ (the name for this letter is a thorn). Over time the way people wrote this letter evolved so that it looked more like the letter ‘ƿ’ (called a wynn), eventually becoming indistinguishable from the letter ‘y.’ Google it if you want to know more!

4) Abbreviations
Be aware that Anne Lister used a lot of abbreviations. Sometimes she missed out the middle of the word, sometimes she missed out the end of the word, sometimes she missed out the middle and the end of the word. Here are some examples of abbreviations including some common abbreviations she frequently used:

Her
Him
Room
Ditto
Could not have
Intended
Seeing

Newly

5) The tricky double ‘s’
When she wrote a word with a double ‘s’ in it, Anne wrote each ‘s’ differently, like this:

Pass

6) No gap between ‘I’ and next word
Anne did not usually leave a gap between ‘I’ and the next word, like this:

I went

7) My
This is how Anne wrote ‘my’:

My

8) Off / of the
The way Anne wrote ‘off’ and ‘of the’ looked quite similar.

Off
Of the

9) Capital ‘e’
Anne wrote a capital ‘e’ like this:

England

10) Trace over the word
When I’m really stuck it sometimes helps to use an imaginary pen to ‘trace’ over the word as Anne would have written it. Feeling the motion of the pen strokes Anne would have used seems to help separate out the different letters from each other.

That’s all for now folks! Please comment if you have any other helpful tips I could add to this post.

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14 thoughts on “Where to find Anne Lister’s original diaries and how to read them

  1. Thank you, this post has ben mot helpful to me in trying to decipher Anne Lister’s plain hand. One suggestion, it would be amazing if you could do a similar article on Anne’s short hand. For me, this is what I am struggling with.

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