At boarding school, at the age of fifteen, Anne met her first love, Eliza Raine. They shared an attic bedroom, called ‘the Slope,’ which made the union an easy one. Anne eagerly stepped into her lesbian sexuality. It was at this time that she began keeping diaries. When Anne began affairs with other women, Eliza went mad, from which she never recovered.
Isabella ‘Tib’ Norcliffe
Isabella Norcliffe became friends with Anne in 1810. They remained friends and occasional lovers throughout the remainder of Anne’s life. Anne’s rejection of her as a life-partner was a bitter blow to Isabella, who remained single all her life. Anne disapproved of Isabella’’s drinking. As Isabella would come very much to regret, she introduced Anne to Mariana Belcombe, who would become lifelong lovers with Anne and the love of Anne’s life.
Mariana Lawton (née Belcombe)
When she was twenty-three Anne met Mariana Belcombe (‘M’ in her diaries). Mariana and Anne began a passionate affair, which continued during Mariana’s marriage for money to Charles Lawton. Anne was heart-broken at Mariana’s infidelity. Aside from jealousy, Mariana’s marriage had other consequences for Anne. In 1820 Charles contracted a venereal disease, apparently from a servant, and Anne caught the incurable “venereal taint” from Mariana, with which she remained infected all her life.
Anne met Maria Barlow, a widow, during her stay in Paris from 1824 to 1826. Anne succeeded in winning Maria’s affections, but her social standing and financial worth did not meet Anne’s aspirations. Anne continued her affair with the love of her life, Mariana Lawton, during her relationship with Maria, while at the same time seeking a suitable life partner who would allow her to climb the social ranks.
Anne finally partnered with a woman who met her social aspirations. Ann Walker was a shy, wealthy young woman from Lightcliffe, who came to live at Shibden in 1834. Ann Walker had the social standing that Anne craved. In line with Anne Lister’s disregard for socially acceptable relationships, she succeeded in marrying Ann Walker in the form of a Church blessing, though the union was not a happy one. They travelled widely together, including a trip to Russia, which ended in Anne Lister’s untimely death in 1840.