In the long task of writing the life of Anne Lister, the same dilemma has dogged me almost from the beginning of my odyssey some ten years ago.
Prior to beginning this biography I had published two books of extracts from Anne’s journals* which cover the years 1816-1826. Now, as her biographer, in order to avoid using her original words again, I have to find ways of using my own words to express those feelings about which she wrote so authentically in the Georgian style à la Jane Austen.
For instance, one of the most poignant descriptions she wrote of the dying of her love for Mariana Lawton lies in the following words.
“Love scorned to leave the ruin desolate, & Time & he have shaded it so sweetly, my heart still lingers in its old abiding place.” [20th August 1823]
To render that in the much more mundane language of today is extremely hard to do without losing some of the essence of heartbreaking melancholy and nostalgia for a vanishing dream which she conveys in that beautifully constructed, evocative sentence. I find myself thinking about the modern-day wag who transformed Wordsworth’s “I wander’d lonely as a cloud” into “I walked about a bit on my own.” Heaven forbid!
*The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010) and No Priest But Love (1992)