• 10th Nov 1818

    Ellen [Empson] & I had a long confab. Told her I was often in low spirits & she owned I had some reason – my father’s managing his estate so ill & living in that quere [sic] sort of way at Weighton. I said I often wanted a companion – someone to take care of me & now she was gone there was nobody I cared about. Said she, very innocently, “Why did you let me marry?” “What could I do? You never asked me.” “That is true enough. I never asked anybody.” She seemed to feel a great deal interested about me – said I was odd but hoped I would not change.

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.