• 7th June 1818

    Thinking that Miss Browne, her current ‘crush’ was avoiding her, Anne wrote: “‘Tis well, I deserve it. Miss Browne is right ... I will think no more of her ... and make myself scarce to everyone, determined to devote myself solely to study & the acquirement of that literature which may make me eminent & more decidedly above them all hereafter ... My mind was intent on these reflections as I walked along & I resolved to stick diligently to my watchword – discretion, & next to good, to devote myself to study.”

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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