In their entirety, the journals of Anne Lister run to 6,600 pages, comprising four million words. From its beginnings in 1806 the complex construction of Anne’s journals evolved over a number of years.
The physical appearance of the journals indicates the growing importance of the role they came to play in Anne’s life. Her earliest entries, crammed into ten loose sheets of paper cover the period from Wednesday 11th August 1806 to Thursday 22nd February 1810. These pages form a very rudimentary unbound journal. In 1816, following a three year gap, Anne appears at some point to have taken up her journal more seriously. The former haphazard loose sheets are replaced by two thin school exercise books with blue covers. In mid-March 1817 the blue books were replaced by the first of a succession of sturdy, hard-backed books, twenty-four in all. Between the covers of these books, Anne’s life is chronicled in minute detail.
In addition to being an account of the day-to-day details of Anne’s life, her journals are inextricably linked to her need to find ways in which she could survive, emotionally and sexually, in a conventional world which held no place for, or cognizance of, those whose sexual orientation appeared to differ from the norm. This need for disguising and hiding her sexual nature found expression in the secret code which she devised in order to chronicle the more intimate side of her life. Writing her journal became an emotional outlet and a psychological prop for Anne and, inadvertently, provided the foundation for a literary masterpiece which has found its place in the canon of other famous English diaries.
Since the first publication in 1988 of an edited selection of extracts the Anne Lister journals have become internationally renowned, particularly in the world of academe.
In 2011 they received the accolade of being placed on the United Kingdom Memory of the World Register for Documentary Heritage of UK significance.