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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #68e Whitbread 1992 I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840 (1820)

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.


When I chose this book for the next installment in my blog series, I hadn't realized quite how much a current wave of Lister-mania there seems to be. Or maybe it's just because I'm following Helena Whitbread on Twitter now, so I'm getting a steady stream of relevant re-tweets. So I thought I'd start this post off with some links that have come to my attention.

Of most up-to-the-minute relevance (although not of practical use to my readers at this point), today there is a performance of a play in York, England based on Lister's life but updated to a modern setting. It would be interesting to see how that works out, though I can see how many of the themes in Lister's life have modern echoes. For more information.

There was a recent Halloween-themed essay at the website The Toast entitled "The Ghosts of Anne Lister" written by a woman working in an office next door to the room that had been Lister's bedroom in boarding school. (Thanks to hawkwing_lb for the tip.)

Another tip from hawkwing_lb: a BBC documentary "Revealing Anne Lister" by Sue Perkins is available on YouTube.

As I mentioned on a previous occasion, there's a somewhat fictionalized (but relatively faithful) movie titled "The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister" based on Lister's diaries, and you can catch a trailer on YouTube. Hmm, maybe I should do a movie review for my Random Thursday Blog this week.

The book I'm currently covering, I Know My Own Heart, has detailed excerpts from the years 1817-1824 and a brief summary of events in her life after that. It has recently been re-issued under the same title as the movie.

The second volume, No Priest But Love: The Journals of Anne Lister From 1824-1826, will be covered in this blog at a later date.

And for general introductory background, there's always the Wikipedia article.

So, as you see, there's quite a bit of interest out there.

* * *

At the beginning of the year, Anne is once more being annoyed by strangers accosting her on the road and by impertinent letters. After yet another comment about an advertisement taken out in her name seeking a “sweetheart”, she consults a lawyer about the letters, but he advises her to take no notice of them.

In February she goes off to spend time in York with the Belcombes and Marianne. In March they are joined by Isabella (Tib) Norcliffe and it’s clear having all three women in one place is a bit uncomfortable.

Marianne returns to Halifax with Anne. At one point she runs across one of Anne’s diaries from just around the time of her marriage and becomes upset to discover how badly it had affected Anne. They discuss some of the issues around Anne’s too-attentive public behavior to other women. There is an entry that concludes, “Went upstairs at 11. Sat up lovemaking, she conjuring me to be faithful, to consider myself as married, & always to act to other women as if I was M--'s husband.” Marianne seems to be very worried about Anne’s faithfulness and there are several emotional scenes where Marianne demands some sort of pledge. Anne dances around the question and convinces herself that she has not made any firm promise. When Marianne writes to her in August, mentioning her promise, Anne cautions her to be more discreet and asks Marianne to send her letters back.

At the end of September, Anne goes to York to visit the Norcliffes for a while. Tib takes exception to the attention Anne is paying to Miss Vallance, another female houseguest, and Anne in turn takes Tib to task for the amount of wine she drinks, which Tib denies. Anne evidently has also had a sexual relationship with Tib’s sister Anne, and notes in early December, “I believe I could have her again in spite of all she says ... [she] owns she loves me & perhaps she has feelings as well as I. She let me kiss her breasts” and they tease each other about whether they want to go further. At least two other near-sexual encounters with her are recorded in late December.

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