• Anne is dissatisfied with Halifax society

    Following a visit to the Saltmarshes Anne writes '[I] came away unsatisfied with my own conversation & feeling somehow unsatisfied altogether. I seldom pay a visit hereabouts that is not afterwards the case. I seem as if I had not kept up dignity enough & yet how can I do otherwise than I do. I never feel to have been in good society when I have been with them. All this must continue for a time but I will get out of it as soon as I can’. [Journal entry 22.6.1819]

About Anne Lister

Anne Lister (1791–1840), now known as ‘the first modern lesbian,’ was a wealthy, independent landowner from Shibden Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Anne kept several volumes of detailed diaries, totalling more than four million words, from the age of fifteen, when she fell in love with her fellow pupil Eliza Raine at the Manor School in York–until her untimely death from an insect sting, at age forty-nine, while travelling in Russia.

One sixth of Anne’s diaries are written in a code, devised by herself, based on a combination of algebra and the Greek alphabet, to which Anne referred as her ‘crypthand.’ She was convinced that no-one would ever be able to decode it. She was wrong. When the diaries were discovered a few decades ago by a member of the Lister family, who broke the code, Anne’s lesbian sexuality was discovered … and quickly buried. John Lister, the relative in question, was gay himself, and did not want to draw attention to his own sexuality by revealing his discovery of the diaries.

The encoded portions of Anne’s diaries document her passionate love affairs with other women. Anne was strikingly free and easy about her sexuality and her numerous romantic encounters. Dressing always in black, without any feminine frills, she was the nineteenth century equivalent of a butch lesbian, and known to the locals as ‘Gentleman Jack.’ She openly courted young women–many of whom seemed most willing to fall under her spell.