• From Anne’s diary, Friday 10th August 1832 (age 42)

    [The first time that Anne Lister put her thoughts in writing about the possibility of courting Ann Walker, the young heiress who lived at Lidgate in the neighbourhood of Shibden.]

    ‘… Thought I, as I have several times done of late, shall I try & make up to her?’

  • From Anne’s diary, Sunday 5th January 1834 (age 43)

    [After eighteen months of an on-and-off courtship, Anne was unsure about whether or not there could be a permanent relationship between them.]

    ‘…Miss W[alker] talks as if she would be glad to take me – then if I say anything decisive she hesitates to. I tell her it is all her money which is in the way. The fact is, she is as she was before [i.e. indecisive], but determined to get away from the Sutherlands and feels the want of me. But [I need to] take someone with more mind and less money. Steph [Belcombe – i.e. Mariana’s brother] is right: she would be a great pother [sic]. [I] have nothing serious to say to her – she wants better manning than I can manage.’

    [See also Jill Liddington’s Female Fortune. Rivers Oram Press. 1998. p.85.]

A biographer’s dilemma

In the long task of writing the life of Anne Lister, the same dilemma has dogged me almost from the beginning of my odyssey some ten years ago.

Prior to beginning this biography I had published two books of extracts from Anne’s journals* which cover the years 1816-1826. Now, as her biographer, in order to avoid using her original words again, I have to find ways of using my own words to express those feelings about which she wrote so authentically in the Georgian style à la Jane Austen.

For instance, one of the most poignant descriptions she wrote of the dying of her love for Mariana Lawton lies in the following words.

“Love scorned to leave the ruin desolate, & Time & he have shaded it so sweetly, my heart still lingers in its old abiding place.” [20th August 1823]

To render that in the much more mundane language of today is extremely hard to do without losing some of the essence of heartbreaking melancholy and nostalgia for a vanishing dream which she conveys in that beautifully constructed, evocative sentence. I find myself thinking about the modern-day wag who transformed Wordsworth’s “I wander’d lonely as a cloud” into “I walked about a bit on my own.” Heaven forbid!

*The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010) and No Priest But Love (1992)

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