Ahead of BBC1’s drama series, Gentleman Jack, Jill Liddington joins biographer Angela Steidele to discuss the Anne Lister journals.
Running to four million words, the diaries were partly written in her own private code to document her lesbian affairs. With readings from Anne Lister’s vivid own words, the Panel explores how she recorded all she managed to achieve.
Anne Lister's diaries
Recently decrypted sections of the diary of Anne Lister (1791–1840), a wealthy landowner from Yorkshire, revealed her passionate love affairs with women.
Anne kept the diaries from the age of 15, when she fell in love with her fellow pupil Eliza Raine, until her untimely death from an insect sting, at age 49, while travelling in Russia. They include a wealth of information about politics, business, estate management, religion, education and reading, science, medicine, travel, and local and national events, as this important area of Yorkshire experienced the rapid effects of the Industrial Revolution, seen from the viewpoint of an extremely well-educated pioneer.
About one-sixth are written in a self-devised code based on a combination of algebra and the Greek alphabet, to which Anne referred as her ‘crypthand.’ She was convinced that no-one would ever be able to decode it.
She was wrong. In the 1980s, encoded portions of Anne’s diaries were unpicked to reveal her passionate love affairs with women, and painfully honest reflections on her sexuality.
Dressing always in black, without any feminine frills, the locals knew her as ‘Gentleman Jack’, which is the title of a major forthcoming BBC/HBO dramatisation of her story, created by Sally Wainwright and starring Suranne Jones.