• 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.]

Secret Diaries Past & Present

Was Anne Lister unique as the only lesbian who kept a diary in code so that she could talk freely about her love-affairs with women? In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I was convinced that she was.

Imagine my surprise when in the summer of 2011 I heard of a present-day lesbian diarist, Natasha Holme, who had been writing in a secret code since she was a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.

I was immediately intrigued to think that two women, separated by some two hundred years, found it necessary not only to live a veiled life due to their sexuality, but were also both driven to record it all in minute and coded detail.

Although we had exchanged e-mails to begin with I first actually met Natasha when I gave a paper on Anne Lister at Queen Mary University in London. On our next meeting we talked about working on an article which would be a “compare and contrast” document, the core idea of which was an exploration of the similarities and differences, as diarists and as lesbians, between modern-day Natasha and Anne Lister, a woman who lived some two hundred years earlier.

Now, five years later, the original ‘article’ has expanded into a short book, entitled Secret Diaries Past & Present by Helena Whitbread and Natasha Holme. It is available both in print and as an e-book from Amazon.

Have you ever recorded any of your private life in code?

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One Comment

  1. C Evans
    Posted August 6, 2019 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Dear Helena Whitbread, Thank you for your comment following Anne’s journal entries 17th August 1823. Up to that point I was urging Anne, can’t you see through the behaviour of this woman? (M-), and you restored my equilibrium with your voice of reason. In fact your comments do put things into context and perspective, which is so helpful.

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