• 9th August 1818

    Mrs Page began talking about my getting married. Told me I had a good figure, good complexion, held myself well & was, she thought, good-tempered. That I should be good-looking if I dressed my hair with bows, as they do now, and with curls, etc. She is a vulgar, good sort of woman, fond of giving her opinions and advice. I took it all well, was amused, led her on & praised her &, I daresay, came off with flying colours.

Two lesbian diarists in two different eras

What would two women, separated by two hundred years, both writing their diaries in a secret code, have in common?

As readers of my blog and my books will know, I have been working on the four-million-word Anne Lister journals for over thirty years and had been confident that it was a unique document in the history of personal diary-keeping, not just because parts of it were written in a secret code of Anne’s own devising, but because she was a lover of women and, living as she did in the Georgian era, she had to be careful to conceal her sexual life in the secrecy of an esoteric code—her ‘crypthand,’ as she called it.

Imagine my surprise when I found out, in 2011, that a present-day lesbian, from her teenage years (she is now in her late forties) had been writing a diary in her own secret code for exactly the same reason as Anne’s—concealment of her sexuality.

I immediately got in touch with her and almost from our first meeting the idea of a ‘Compare and Contrast’ exercise took root. A  literary exploration of the comparisons and the contrasts between the two diarists, writing in very different eras, can be found in the recently published book entitled Secret Diaries Past & Present: Q & A with Helena Whitbread & Natasha Holme.

Have you ever recorded any of your private life in code? Let me know in the comments!

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