During a visit to York, Anne Lister’s friend and ex-lover, Isabella Norcliffe, accused Anne, half-jokingly, of being a “tuft-hunter.”
Around 1670, “tuft” became a slang term to describe the golden tassels which ornamented an academic mortarboard of titled undergraduates, the sons of noblemen, at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. Non-titled students merely sported a plain black tassel. Another version is that the titled elite had tufts of fur on the shoulders of their gowns while the lesser fry had none. However, in both versions those among the latter group who tried to curry favour with the socially superior students became known as “tufthunters.”
Isabella’s accusation, however, had nothing to do with gold tassels or tufts of fur. The less exotic dictionary definition of tuft is “a bunch or cluster of small, usually soft and flexible parts, such as feathers or hairs attached or fixed closely together at the base and loose at the upper ends”. This definition is much more closely related to Anne’s fetish of collecting locks of hair from the women she seduced–but her request for a lock of hair was much more esoteric than it sounds. Rather than making notches on her bedpost to record her successes with lovers, she tried to get a lock of their pubic hair, as the following extracts indicate.
‘Just after we got home from the walk I went into her room & asked Miss V- for two locks of her hair in such a way that I am sure she knew what I wanted & I durst say no more.’
[Journal entry 30.10.1818]
‘Sat by [Miss Vallance’s] bedside. Got my hand down to quere & smuggled a pair of scissors under the clothes, meaning to cut off a lock of her hair. As soon as she found I had got scissors she instantly said, “What are you going to do with those scissors? & desired me to take them away in such a tone that I saw my experiment would not answer. I apologized as well as I could & she forgave me.’
[Journal entry 31.10.1818]
It seems that Anne was not alone in her erotic collections–on the 9th August 1812 the poet Lord Byron was the recipient of a letter from his discarded lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, which contained a very personal token of her love for him–a lock of her pubic hair!
Have you ever given or received an intimate gift of this nature?