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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #68c Whitbread 1992 I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840 (1818)

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 excerpted entries for this year (and remember that I'm only summarizing material relating to romance/gender/sexuality) illustrate a number of continuing themes in Anne Lister's life. Those around her (both of her own class and outside it) perceive her habits and style of dress to be odd and even masculine (though there is no indication that she does anything that could be called cross-dressing). She dithers and sighs over Marianne, accepts the affection and attentions of Tib while holding her at arm's length, pays pointed attention to a fresh young thing to the point of exciting comment, and hints at former relationships with other women in her large social circle.

* * *

The first part of the year was very quiet, but in April Miss Browne returned and Anne becomes quite attentive to her, despite considering her family vulgar. This resulted in comment as the friendship was between the two women alone and not between their families. Anne finds many excuses to encounter her casually but there are no formal visits. Halifax society begins teasing Anne about the peculiar relationship. Anne also records encounters with more lower class persons who mock her for her masculine appearance and habits. She has given Miss Browne the nickname Kallista in her diaries (though she uses it rarely).

When Anne writes of Marianne now, she is colder and doubts they will ever be together. Anne turns her thoughts to whether she can shape Miss Browne into a suitable companion. In general, Miss Browne seems both flattered and flustered by Anne's attention. Anne seems to believe Miss Browne understands the nature of her affections but this is not at all clear to an outside observer.

The Norcliffes, including Anne's friend Tib, have returned from their travels and Anne plans to spend from September to the end of the year with them in York. During her journey there, Anne has a couple more encounters with strangers acting as if they take her for a man. (Note that there is no indication that she is wearing men's clothing, though perhaps severe and masculine styles.)

There is nothing regarding any romantic renewal with Tib and in November Anne stays with a different friend in York when the Norcliffes travel south for the winter. The friend seems to be a previous interest of Anne's and they talk about Anne's wish for a companion. The friend seems somewhat regretful that Anne had not approached her about it before her (the friend's) marriage.

In late November Anne moves again and spends much time with the Belcombes (Marianne's family). There is an interesting conversation with Lou (Marianne's sister) on the topic of female companions and Lou seems to be hinting of her own interest. In December, back to Halifax where Anne again begins mooning over Miss Browne.

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