• 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.]

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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3 Comments

  1. Christine Evans
    Posted June 16, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I’ve never known anything of Anne Lister apart from her name (on Flog It). But, thank you, thank you, thank you for all your work over so many years bringing her diaries to light – it seems and I hope it was a labour of love, because that’s what comes though. I have bought your books and just finished Secret Dairies Past and Present. The juxtaposition of the two diarists provided a great chance to hear, in particular, your comments on Anne’s life through her journals and I loved that. I struggled quite a lot with what I found negative of the other diarist, but recognise that the questions raised gave the opportunity for your positive reflections.
    Your painstaking work on the Journals is much appreciated by me as I am dyslexic, and being presented with a copy of even one page of either diary would leave me all at sea. My eyes would still flick off the page seeking recovery.
    Finally, the insight your work has given me over the past month has been invaluable to my human growth. Just knowing something of what Anne revealed in her journals, especially regarding Christianity and her sexuality, has helped me to come to find peace with who I am, and at the age of 65 it’s a big thing, believe me. (There’s more behind that comment, but not here). Who knew that at my age this would happed. Once again, Thanks.

  2. Posted June 16, 2019 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your appreciation of my work on Anne Lister, Christine, which has been indeed a labour of love over the last three and a half decades. I am so pleased that you have found such comfort in reading Anne Lister’s words. She is an inspiration to many women like yourself, who all take courage from the way she lived her life with such courage and determination. She was true to her nature. “I love and only love the fairer sex and thus, beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs.”

    • Christine Evans
      Posted June 23, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much for your reply – a pleasant surprise. May I ask a question. In Gentleman Jack Ep 5, (aired 16 June 19) the drama unfolds Anne’s attitude, within a Christian context of her sexuality, which I found enlightening and helpful. With your depth of knowledge about Anne could you say that the words of these memorable sequences reflect her attitude to marriage, repugnance of relationship with a man, and her effort to explain their relationship to Ann W. Would they be gleaned from her journals? Does this actually portray Anne’s attitude?
      (This week I was reading daily commentaries from Quiet Spaces BRF by Angela Skevington p 46ff entitled The Four Loves by C S Lewis,)
      In this, Lewis describes the wonderful moment when we find someone else who sees thing similarly – ‘You too, I thought it was only me’.
      That’s the way I felt watching the above sequence in the drama. (I have now bought The Four Loves to read and ponder for myself.
      He then goes describes eros as the kind of love which lovers are in, which transforms a need-pleasure into an appreciation-pleasure. We see the miracle of the beloved, and in them something of the imago Dei, wiping out the distinction between giving and receiving, it can take us to a point beyond ourselves: ‘Love you, I am you!’ (p89) This kind of love honoured within a context of love of God and charity to our neighbour, is close to the kind of love that God has for us. The total commitment, the adoration and the sacrifice of God’s love for us has its echo here. The writer concludes that we are loved with abandon: completely, unconditionally.
      All this in one week is quite extraordinary. Thank you once again for your reply.

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