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Anne Lister

19th century English woman whose coded diaries detail her romantic and sexual relations with women and a social circle in which covert lesbian relationships were frequent.

LHMP entry

It is clear from Marianne's letters and descriptions of her activities that she has been making new friends, taking up new hobbies, and generally becoming less emotionally dependent on Anne. In the early part of the year, Anne is much concerned with managing the property she shares with her aunt and uncle, taking over more of the control. Tib comes to visit in mid January and is in poor health. In a month Anne is wishing the visit were over already and is tired of Tib's drinking and snuff-taking.

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.

While staying with the Belcombes in York, Anne gives Miss Vallance a copy of her secret cypher while at the same time saying she is “getting lukewarm about her.” Anne returns to Halifax in mid-January. In February she writes a very loving letter to Marianne and refers to her as “my wife”. In May she records a sexual fantasy about a local woman Caroline Greenwood, whom she admires, and there are regular notes through the summer about her attraction to various women, though none of these seem to go beyond admiration.

Anne is depressed after Marianne leaves in January. During a visit from Tib Anne tells her that she is no longer as interested in "sleeping with" other women. (Presumably based on the explicit pledges she exchanged with Marianne.) It's unclear whether this is meant to be euphemism or literal but the context suggests the former. Tib teases her about this and continues in the mistaken belief that she will be Anne's life partner at some point. But Anne continues to be less than honest with Tib about her commitment to Marianne, of whom Tib continues to be jealous.

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.

It turns out that Miss Browne seems to be in love with a man that she's known for several years and is unhappy that her parents are set against him. It is becoming clear (even to the oblivious Anne) that Miss Browne has never seen Anne's interest as romantic. And after much internal conflict recorded in February and March, Anne's interest in her fades significantly.

This volume covers 1817 to 1824: Anne Lister lived from 1791 to 1840 at Halifax in West Yorkshire, England. Born one of six children, to an upper class family, the deaths of her four brothers enabled her to inherit Shibden Hall where she then lived with her Uncle James and Aunt Anne (unmarried siblings) from age 24 on, leaving her parental home. Finances were difficult at first but she seems to have had a talent far careful management and eventually had sufficient funds to travel.

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.

The introduction begins with a contradiction that inspires the book’s title. In twenty years of correspondence between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (who were famous for their close and loving friendship), the two closed letters with phrases in which the words “passionate” or “passionately” figured prominently. And yet a comment by Sarah regarding a somewhat scandalous pamphlet described it as including “stuff not fit to be mentioned of passions between women”. Did the word “passion” have distinct and separate meanings in these two contexts?

Lanser opens with a letter from the intellectual Elizabeth Montagu in 1750 deploring the plan of two female friends to live together as it will "hurt us all" if women "make such a parade of their affection" leading to suspicion regarding all female friendships. Lanser argues that Montagu's objection is unlikely to be to romantic friendships as such. The sister to whom the letter was addressed would later pen Millenium Hall, a celebration of separatist female friendship.

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