Halifax, Yorkshire. The home of Anne Lister, a lady who had a
secret fondness for the 'fairer sex'. Born in 1791, her diaries
show a young woman who is self conscious of her lesbianism and is,
if I do say so myself, a bit of a flirt.
Her diaries began in 1806, however the interest in other women
becomes apparent from about 1816, when her coded shorthand became a
way to talk more and more confidently about love, sex and how she
had customised her stockings. Racy stuff!
Anne Lister's confidence in her sexuality surprised me; the fact
that she declared: "I love and only love the fairer sex", only
reinforces this. She was evidently out to herself and her 'friends'
and was challenging the world around her in the best way that she
could see fit. This is inspiring in many ways. It can't have been
in any way easy to recognise that you were different, let alone act
upon those feelings. And by god, does she act on them.
Anne, if you're listening now, how on earth did you get so much
sex? Was it the fact that you "wore drawers with gentlemen's
braces" or was it your selection of petticoats? Either way, I am
impressed (and jealous).
Something that is definitely familiar to many the lesbian is
attempting to understand the nature of sexuality. We're lucky now
that there are so many stances we can adopt in order to define who
we are. In the 1800s the common belief was that lesbians were
hermaphrodites. Anne immediately rejects this, and rightly so. In
many ways, Anne believed that it was down to nature, something that
must have been a wholly new revelation at that time. Like Gaga,
Lister thought we were born this way and that's more than
In terms of relating to the diaries, there wasn't much there. I
don't know whether this is necessarily a good thing but I actually
found them very funny. Nothing like a bit of Georgian seduction and
old-fashioned techniques of bagging the ladies to get a case of the
I decided that I would try out one chat-up line of Anne's to see
if I got the same reaction as she did. Immediately it became clear
that when one sends a message saying, "Baby, I've got pain in my
knees", you aren't really going to get a response insinuating sex.
Anne Lister's euphemism for desire obviously doesn't work in 2011.
I did however draw a line at the keeping of locks of other girls'
pubic hair, just as Anne and her various girlfriends did. The idea
of cutting off a chunk from some poor lady and then wrapping it up
in a ribbon was just too much to bear.
The diaries of Anne Lister, although secret for decades, have
become a classic in their own right. They're refreshing and
endearing and just show how strong-willed and determined women
could be to find love and essentially be happy. That never fails to
be inspiring, however long ago it was written.
How classic are The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister?
How are they relevant now? 2/5
The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister (edited by Helena Whitbread)
available now from DIVADirect.co.uk, priced £9.99