• From Anne’s diary, 9th August 1818 (age 28)

    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.

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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