• 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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