Skip to content Skip to navigation

Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #68b Whitbread 1992 I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840 (1817)

Full citation: 

Whitbread, Helena ed. 1992. I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840. New York University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8147-9249-9

Publication summary: 

Whitbread has decoded and edited the candid diaries of Anne Lister, and early 19th century member of the Yorkshire gentry who was self-consciously and exclusively lesbian in her romantic and sexual relationships.


The surviving journals begin at a difficult time in Anne's life. The love of her life (referred to consistently as M-- although I have expanded it to Marianne for better readability) felt unable to resist a marriage that would give her a solid economic standing and her husband has become (understandably) suspicious of her friendship with Anne and seems to have placed a number of roadblocks in their way. Later in the diaries, there is a great deal of visiting back and forth between the two women, so this scrutiny seems to have lifted. Anne's visits to Marianne are never at her husband's house--usually at her family's home (the Belcombes) or in the context of visiting other mutual friends in York. One of the more startling patterns I noticed overall was the amount of time that people in Anne's circles spent visiting at other people's houses. At a rough estimate, I'd say that for over half the year, either Anne was off visiting or had someone else staying with her. This first entry is shorter than the others as it is either more reticent about her emotional life (the part I'm summarizing) or simply because there wasn't as much going on.

* * *

At the time of the earliest journal entries, Marianne has already married and her husband has intercepted their correspondence, which included speculations on Anne and Marianne forming a household together after the (much older) husband's death. At this point Anne begins using her cipher in the correspondence for key passages, as well as in her journals, But relations with Marianne were becoming strained from the separation and Anne's thoughts turned once more to an earlier lover, Tib (Isabrlla Norcliffe), who was part of the York social circles of her youth.

Tib, however, is traveling in Italy. And so Anne befriends a Miss Browne, a woman from a socially inferior family--a preference which caused jealousies among the Halifax families to whose company Anne was indifferent. But this new friendship was interrupted by Miss Browne's removal to Harrowgate for half a year.

During a visit to York on the occasion of her mother's death, Anne took the opportunity to see Marianne and her family and try to repair some social ties there by pretending to less affection for Marianne than she truly felt. This reaching out led to a very brief return visit from Marianne at the end of the month.

Time period: 
Event / person: 

Add new comment