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I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries, 1791-1840

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Upon publication, the first volume of Anne Lister's diaries, I Know My Own Heart, met with celebration, delight, and some skepticism. How could an upper class Englishwoman, in the first half of the nineteenth century, fulfill her emotional and sexual needs when her sexual orientation was toward other women? How did an aristocratic lesbian manage to balance sexual fulfillme Upon publication, the first volume of Anne Lister's diaries, I Know My Own Heart, met with celebration, delight, and some skepticism. How could an upper class Englishwoman, in the first half of the nineteenth century, fulfill her emotional and sexual needs when her sexual orientation was toward other women? How did an aristocratic lesbian manage to balance sexual fulfillment with social acceptability? Helena Whitbread, the editor of these diaries, here allows us an inside look at the long-running love affair between Anne Lister and Marianna Lawton, an affair complicated by Anne's infatuation with Maria Barlow. Anne travels to Paris where she discovers a new love interest that conflicts with her developing social aspirations. For the first time, she begins to question the nature of her identity and the various roles female lovers may play in the life of a gentrywoman. Though unequipped with a lesbian vocabulary with which to describe her erotic life, her emotional conflicts are contemporary enough to speak to us all. This book will satisfy the curiosity of the many who became acquainted with Lister through I Know My Own Heart and are eager to learn more about her revealing life and what it suggests about the history of sexuality.


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Upon publication, the first volume of Anne Lister's diaries, I Know My Own Heart, met with celebration, delight, and some skepticism. How could an upper class Englishwoman, in the first half of the nineteenth century, fulfill her emotional and sexual needs when her sexual orientation was toward other women? How did an aristocratic lesbian manage to balance sexual fulfillme Upon publication, the first volume of Anne Lister's diaries, I Know My Own Heart, met with celebration, delight, and some skepticism. How could an upper class Englishwoman, in the first half of the nineteenth century, fulfill her emotional and sexual needs when her sexual orientation was toward other women? How did an aristocratic lesbian manage to balance sexual fulfillment with social acceptability? Helena Whitbread, the editor of these diaries, here allows us an inside look at the long-running love affair between Anne Lister and Marianna Lawton, an affair complicated by Anne's infatuation with Maria Barlow. Anne travels to Paris where she discovers a new love interest that conflicts with her developing social aspirations. For the first time, she begins to question the nature of her identity and the various roles female lovers may play in the life of a gentrywoman. Though unequipped with a lesbian vocabulary with which to describe her erotic life, her emotional conflicts are contemporary enough to speak to us all. This book will satisfy the curiosity of the many who became acquainted with Lister through I Know My Own Heart and are eager to learn more about her revealing life and what it suggests about the history of sexuality.

30 review for I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries, 1791-1840

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lord Beardsley

    I first found out about Anne Lister when I saw ads on the BBC a while back for a TV adaptation of her story. I'm very interested in the lives of queer people throughout history, so I was naturally quite interested to find out more about her. Sarah Waters (long a favorite of mine) also had some words to say about Anne Lister's life, so that definitely helped pique my curiosity. I found this book very interesting, and something I could just sit back and take in. For a lot of people, it's bound to b I first found out about Anne Lister when I saw ads on the BBC a while back for a TV adaptation of her story. I'm very interested in the lives of queer people throughout history, so I was naturally quite interested to find out more about her. Sarah Waters (long a favorite of mine) also had some words to say about Anne Lister's life, so that definitely helped pique my curiosity. I found this book very interesting, and something I could just sit back and take in. For a lot of people, it's bound to be considered quite boring because she never intended this to ever be read by anyone and a lot of it is her listing off what she did that day, what she bought, etc. So, it's definitely not for everyone. If you're looking for a page turner, I wouldn't recommend picking this one up. But, if you're interested in the lives of unconventional people in history, especially women and/or queer people and have a love for jumping back in time, it's worth a read. I was particularly impressed with the nerve she had to be so masculine presenting during the hyper-feminine Regency era. She experienced a lot of ridicule and struggled mightily throughout her life for being who she was, despite the fact that she was the member of gentry. She was also quite a snob and really had a problem with "vulgar" people. I found it particularly interesting that at that time, close female friends (not lovers, but just friends) didn't seem to have a problem with discussing matters of sexuality, especially in regards to homosexuality. There was much more knowledge of homosexuality at that time than I think modern people realize. It was surprising to hear her make mention of how she openly admitted to most people that she knew (including her aged aunt and uncle) that she was not interested in men, but wanted female companionship. It's a slice-of-life book. While not riveting, it is definitely interesting to a specific reader interested in history, queer lives, women's lives, or all of the above.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘I owe a great deal to this diary’. Anne Lister (3 April 1791 - 22/9/1840) was a member of a family of prominent land owners: the Listers of Shibden Hall in Halifax (West Yorkshire, UK). In 1813, when her surviving brother accidentally drowned, Anne became heir to Shibden Hall. During her lifetime, Anne kept a diary which runs to some four million words. Thanks to this diary, we have access to a lot of detail about Anne's life: her sexual and emotional relationships with women; the minutiae of up ‘I owe a great deal to this diary’. Anne Lister (3 April 1791 - 22/9/1840) was a member of a family of prominent land owners: the Listers of Shibden Hall in Halifax (West Yorkshire, UK). In 1813, when her surviving brother accidentally drowned, Anne became heir to Shibden Hall. During her lifetime, Anne kept a diary which runs to some four million words. Thanks to this diary, we have access to a lot of detail about Anne's life: her sexual and emotional relationships with women; the minutiae of upper-class 18th century daily life; and the castes and customs of life in a provincial town. In this book, Helena Whitbread has concentrated on the years from 1816 to 1824: this is the period during which Anne's two most significant relationships - with Mariana Lawton (nee Belcombe) and Isabella Norcliffe - developed and are chronicled in significant detail. `I love, and only love, the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs.' - (from 29 January 1821) In her introduction, Ms Whitbread writes that Anne Lister began her diaries in 1806, with entries becoming more detailed from 1808. But as the entries became more detailed, Anne developed a code (which she refers to as `crypthand') which gave her the freedom to describe her life in great detail. After all, no-one else would be able to understand the code, would they? The story of how the diaries were discovered, decrypted, then hidden because of their contents and then finally partially published is fascinating. So is the content - especially (but by no means exclusively) to those interested in women's and lesbian history. Anne Lister's account of 18th century life, of the detail of routine life and of her activities and aspirations is absorbing. Some of her views and opinions would seem quite archaic to many of us today but then she never intended for us to be reading them. Now that I have read this book, I am keen to know more about Anne Lister's life. Particularly after 1826 when she became the owner of the Shibden estate. Apparently, many of Anne's neighbours saw her as an eccentric, a bluestocking who learned Latin, Greek and Geometry and who discussed politics. Anne Lister was the first woman to be elected to the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society. The BBC has made a documentary drama about Anne Lister which I've not yet seen. If you are interested in the social history of this era, from less conventional perspective, you may enjoy reading this book. I did. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  3. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    Of the twenty-seven volumes of elaborately-coded diaries which have (thankfully) survived, comprising four million words and covering a thirty-four year period, it has been an absolute delight to read this wonderfully-edited book of journal extracts and to have been provided with a vivid and fascinating insight into the fabric of Anne Lister’s life between 1817 and 1824. In 1819, Anne - a passionately independent woman, self-educated scholar, lesbian, heiress, entrepreneur, traveller, wrote in h Of the twenty-seven volumes of elaborately-coded diaries which have (thankfully) survived, comprising four million words and covering a thirty-four year period, it has been an absolute delight to read this wonderfully-edited book of journal extracts and to have been provided with a vivid and fascinating insight into the fabric of Anne Lister’s life between 1817 and 1824. In 1819, Anne - a passionately independent woman, self-educated scholar, lesbian, heiress, entrepreneur, traveller, wrote in her diary, “…I am resolved not to let my life pass without some private memorial that I may hereafter read, perhaps with a smile, when Time has frozen up the channel of sentiments which flow so freshly now.” Anne’s resolve, like her desire and her gallant endeavours to satisfy it, her authenticity, self-discernment, her striking confidence, astuteness, her sophisticated manner and blatant haughtiness has left me feeling utterly intoxicated. I am eager to get started on my very next ‘read’ - another publication in the wonderful ‘Cutting Edge: Lesbian Life and Literature’ series and again expertly-transcribed and edited by Helena Whitbread, entitled No Priest But Love: The Journals of Anne Lister From 1824-1826

  4. 4 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    The Diaries of Anne Lister is definitely the oldest “lesbian” book I’ve read to date. I’m putting lesbian in quotation marks because what is actually the most fascinating things about the diary is how Anne Lister explores her attraction to women and her sexual identity in a time before sexuality was such a defining characteristic for our identities and before the word lesbian even existed with our contemporary understanding of it (if anyone as nerdy as me is wondering, “lesbian” was first used i The Diaries of Anne Lister is definitely the oldest “lesbian” book I’ve read to date. I’m putting lesbian in quotation marks because what is actually the most fascinating things about the diary is how Anne Lister explores her attraction to women and her sexual identity in a time before sexuality was such a defining characteristic for our identities and before the word lesbian even existed with our contemporary understanding of it (if anyone as nerdy as me is wondering, “lesbian” was first used in 1890 as “female homosexual,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary—so it’s really a relatively new word!). Back to Anne Lister: she was an upper-class Englishwoman living in Halifax and Shibden Hall, West Yorkshire in the early 1800s who kept a very comprehensive diary of her life, a significant amount of which was written in a code that Lister herself had created.... see the rest of my review here: http://lesbrary.com/2012/04/20/casey-...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ailsa

    She was such a twat, I love everything about her. What a delight.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hadas Tsury

    Amazing woman! What a life she had!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    Ever since watching Gentleman Jack, I've been interested in Anne Lister. She's just a fascinating woman and it's amazing what her legacy is for the queer community. After reading a nonfiction book about her, I decided to read these diaries that she wrote throughout her life. This particular book covers up to 1824 and it's so interesting. Of course, some of it's rather dull but Anne wrote about so many things. Her family and friends, her distress about how others perceived her gender identity, he Ever since watching Gentleman Jack, I've been interested in Anne Lister. She's just a fascinating woman and it's amazing what her legacy is for the queer community. After reading a nonfiction book about her, I decided to read these diaries that she wrote throughout her life. This particular book covers up to 1824 and it's so interesting. Of course, some of it's rather dull but Anne wrote about so many things. Her family and friends, her distress about how others perceived her gender identity, her sexuality, and her relationships with women. They were fascinating to read because it gives a glimpse into women's sexuality, which has notoriously been pushed away for years. Let alone a queer woman who decided to live her truth, albeit in secret because of the times. I really can't wait to get my hands on the second volume of this, even though it only covers up to 1826,

  8. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Initially it seemed like this would be boring - it's a lot of "practice flute for half an hour. called on a friend. studied latin. went to bed at 10" - but there is quite a lot going on! I was actually shocked at some of it. I've always assumed same-sex relationships existed in history, but I suppose I imagined these upper class ladies being too timid to actually do much. Anne doesn't give explicit detail, but she makes it quite clear that she is sleeping with both M- and Tib, and at one point s Initially it seemed like this would be boring - it's a lot of "practice flute for half an hour. called on a friend. studied latin. went to bed at 10" - but there is quite a lot going on! I was actually shocked at some of it. I've always assumed same-sex relationships existed in history, but I suppose I imagined these upper class ladies being too timid to actually do much. Anne doesn't give explicit detail, but she makes it quite clear that she is sleeping with both M- and Tib, and at one point she suggests to her friend Miss Pickford (she made another lesbian friend! that surprised me too) that she "use a phallus". I found that I didn't actually like Anne very much. She spends a lot of time dismissing everyone around her as stupid and vulgar. At one point she acquires an STD and then goes to bed with a friend and doesn't think to tell her. When she finds out she has infected her friend, she feels terrible but vows she will never reveal that it is her fault. Speaking of diseases, though, I was fascinated by all the medical treatments mentioned in the book. The number of times she mentions her teeth hurting, or her eye being tired, and leeches, really gave me an idea of what it was like physically to be alive in 1824. I felt sad that probably none of the treatments had any effect. I was disappointed that the book ended before Anne began her relationship with Miss Ann Walker. I will check if there has been another volume published.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    I came to learn of Anne Lister through the BBC's version of her diaries. I thought that she sounded very interesting and wanted to know more about her. So after buying this book, I looked forward to it hoping it would be just as good. Sadly I was disappointed. The time that the book covers doesn't include her later life when she found Miss Walker. Though she writes about the women who were in her life such as Marina and Miss Browne, you don't hear much about Miss Walker. This book just didn't I came to learn of Anne Lister through the BBC's version of her diaries. I thought that she sounded very interesting and wanted to know more about her. So after buying this book, I looked forward to it hoping it would be just as good. Sadly I was disappointed. The time that the book covers doesn't include her later life when she found Miss Walker. Though she writes about the women who were in her life such as Marina and Miss Browne, you don't hear much about Miss Walker. This book just didn't interest me and I found it quite boring. Anne seemed strong and clever, but she also comes across as a snob. I thought this because of what she wrote about Miss Browne, who is someone who is of a lower class. It was interesting to learn about what life was like in the 1800's and how hard it was for women. Overall If your interested in women's lives in history then I would recommend this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Richard R

    (This covers both editions of Anne Lister's diaries.) One of the oddities about reading Anne Lister is gaining an insight into someone who created an identity entirely sui generis and how that is to be compared to how we see sexuality and gender now. That identity is certainly striking, amounting to a frank declaration that Lister only loved women and that the thought of sexual attraction to men was repulsive to her. If her sexuality is clear enough, her gender is perhaps less so. A plaque placed (This covers both editions of Anne Lister's diaries.) One of the oddities about reading Anne Lister is gaining an insight into someone who created an identity entirely sui generis and how that is to be compared to how we see sexuality and gender now. That identity is certainly striking, amounting to a frank declaration that Lister only loved women and that the thought of sexual attraction to men was repulsive to her. If her sexuality is clear enough, her gender is perhaps less so. A plaque placed at a church where she and Ann Walker had pledged themselves to each other drew criticism for calling her 'gender non-conforming'and omitting the word 'lesbian' but there's no real way to be certain whuch description is more accurate. Lister certainly presented as masculine (with one lover being uncomfortable with the presence of a moustache) while Frued would have relished statements like 'If I had a penis, tho’ of but small length, I should surely break the ice some of these times.' This comes up on multiple occasions as when she is 'Thinking of Mrs Milne. Fancying I had a penis & was intriguing with her in the downstairs water-closet at Langton before breakfast, to which she would have made no objection.' Earlier she contemplates 'Supposing myself in men’s clothes & having a penis, tho’ nothing more.' The converse is also true, that she had an aversion to 'anything that reminded me of my petticoats.' The pictures continues to be complex when one considers the social and political context. Lister was a landowner and accordingly held distinctly conservative views at a time when rioting and dissent were far from uncommon in Yorkshire. As well as being opposed to reform, she can equally be something of a prude, writing that a theatrical performance was 'beyond anything I could have imagined it possible to bring forward on the stage, particularly the Thèâtre Français. Certainly not a scene for English ladies.' A modern reader can't help but find it odd that a conversation between Lister and one of the Ladies of Llangollen consisted of decrying Lucretius on the grounds that 'He was a deistical writer... she knew he was heterodox. I observed that she might think all the classics objectionable.' The most striking comment is her denunciation of a man on the grounds that 'To me his voice is so feminine as to be distressing – the more striking because his appearance is not [at] all so.' The sole concession to liberalism in the diaries is an endorsement of the view that girls could be educated to the same capacity as boys, especially given that somuch of the diaries consist of Lister's autodidactism. Quite frequently she sees her relationships as essentially that of man and wife (although if this is how Maria Barlow saw it she was nonetheless relegated to the role of mistress). As such, Lister writes 'In plain English, she was too much like a mistress. She was not my wife.... On returning up the new bank, a man said, ‘Are them man & wife?’ Marianna & I both coloured but she laughed & said she did not mind it, nor do I think she did.'

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alys

    This book is hilarious and eye-opening. I read it because Id watched Gentleman Jack but this is all set in the period of her life where she's younger (and far more beefy) before the TV series starts. It was cool in general to get such a good look at the life and views of another person living in a different time and how different her concerns were. The lesbian stuff was also astonishing because she wasn't just a sad lonely lesbian (although at times that is a theme); she slept with loads of wome This book is hilarious and eye-opening. I read it because Id watched Gentleman Jack but this is all set in the period of her life where she's younger (and far more beefy) before the TV series starts. It was cool in general to get such a good look at the life and views of another person living in a different time and how different her concerns were. The lesbian stuff was also astonishing because she wasn't just a sad lonely lesbian (although at times that is a theme); she slept with loads of women and really doesn't seem to have found it that hard to find people. At one point she even got a lesbian bff and they openly discussed being a lesbian?? And this is all in a rural village in Yorkshire. The townspeople don't seem to have had any problem and were far more concerned about her snobbishness. Just amazing. Also from a gossip point of view her life is WILD. The beef is constant. It's like Jane Austen but more beefy and real and also gay.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kath Middleton

    This is a very well researched book and contains numerous footnotes for those who wish to study further. Don’t assume that it bears much resemblance to the television dramatization which doesn’t start until after this section of the diaries – though you may find you have Suranne Jones in mind when reading it. I found it a brilliant window on the 1820s with Anne noting the prices of the things she bought, some of which seemed very expensive for the times. It also shows Anne’s snobbery as she even This is a very well researched book and contains numerous footnotes for those who wish to study further. Don’t assume that it bears much resemblance to the television dramatization which doesn’t start until after this section of the diaries – though you may find you have Suranne Jones in mind when reading it. I found it a brilliant window on the 1820s with Anne noting the prices of the things she bought, some of which seemed very expensive for the times. It also shows Anne’s snobbery as she even finds her own father and sister vulgar on occasion. It serves as a social history document as much as anything, and, although the ‘secret’ part was translated from Anne’s own code, it often refers to cleaning her stays so isn’t at all titillating. If you’re looking for more of the TV drama, wait for the next series. If you’re looking for a well-researched history of the north of England in the early nineteenth century, this is the book you need to read. Extremely interesting.

  13. 4 out of 5

    عمران ابن مصر

    It’s not a particularly bad book, just no great literary work. Primarily, of course, it is a diary, and unlike earlier, Renaissance texts, Anne Lister’s diaries were not meant to be read by others. This clearly shows in the writing as the entries are extremely straightforward and not overly given to description. That being said, Anne Lister had a good eye for detail and provides a very thorough account of her daily comings and goings, even if she does lean towards listing (nominative determinism It’s not a particularly bad book, just no great literary work. Primarily, of course, it is a diary, and unlike earlier, Renaissance texts, Anne Lister’s diaries were not meant to be read by others. This clearly shows in the writing as the entries are extremely straightforward and not overly given to description. That being said, Anne Lister had a good eye for detail and provides a very thorough account of her daily comings and goings, even if she does lean towards listing (nominative determinism perhaps?) The edition that I read is edited by Helena Whitbread and despite the hard work it took me to get through what she has provided, I would have liked a little more. There are a few good summaries of intervening periods of Anne’s life which are not included, as well as explanations of what is happening in certain entries. However, Whitbread has chosen to end the book when Anne goes on a trip to Paris, and from there she provides a summary of Anne’s life and then some obituaries. Perhaps it is the historian in me, but I would dearly have loved for this book to be a complete translation of Anne’s diaries, rather than just providing a window into a section of her life. I suppose now there is nothing for it but to go to England and translate her code myself, as this edition seems to be the only one available commercially. Anne Lister was not a particularly nice person, which may have been part of why her diaries were so hard to read. She is extremely elitist and holds both herself and others to very high standards, looking down on those who don’t meet them as “vulgar”. If I had a dollar for every time Anne describes someone as “vulgar” I would be very rich right now. She does seem like a worthwhile friend to have and it seems that, while they held her interest, she was quite attentive to her few female friends and lovers. She does appear to have been reasonably fickle however and her feelings could cool quite rapidly. She was an extraordinarily accomplished and well-read woman who spoke several languages and helped run much of her family’s estate. What I found most interesting about the diary entries however, is that Anne herself does not seem to feel any religious concern over her sexuality. She attends church for both social and religious reasons and, while she does not appear particularly devout, she frequently describes herself praying and seeking forgiveness of her sins. Her sexuality is never described by her as a sin. Anne’s main struggle with her sexuality is the gossip that she must suffer because of it, as well as the heartbreak it causes – something that happens whatever your sexuality. I firmly believe in the studying of history and the power of knowing where we, as a people come from. For that reason, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is a worthwhile read, as it gives us a peek into a woman’s everyday life. As a literary diversion however, the diaries are seriously lacking, and if you are looking for something fun to read you will probably want to look elsewhere.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Maldemal

    Interesting. Good commentary, but I wish it covered a longer period of her life (she wrote her diaries for much longer than the years that are covered in this book). It's weird, reading someone's diary. It feels like someone you know now. I got a bit low over the fact that the part of her life that was covered in this volume was so dull and fruitless. For a woman of that class, without enough money, life was, basically, shit. It was perhaps better for those she termed "vulgar" and to "low" for h Interesting. Good commentary, but I wish it covered a longer period of her life (she wrote her diaries for much longer than the years that are covered in this book). It's weird, reading someone's diary. It feels like someone you know now. I got a bit low over the fact that the part of her life that was covered in this volume was so dull and fruitless. For a woman of that class, without enough money, life was, basically, shit. It was perhaps better for those she termed "vulgar" and to "low" for her - they generally had more money and were less self conscious. It is funny, though, because I had no problems at all with the fact that she wasn't very nice. We gererally aren't, if you were to read our secret thoughts or diaries, but a while ago I started to read Tomalins excellent book on Pepys and after a while I had to put it down, because he was such a piece of shit. Maybe I was more frustrated with him because he had opportunities and money enough etc, but still couldnt do any good. Anne Lister wasn't, as I said, very nice, but she was perhaps also more like me than I would like to admit. Brilliant way of understanding the period better. I hope she liked the later part of her life better.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Artnoose McMoose

    This book represents a good chunk of the diaries of 19th century lesbian Anne Lister, recently made somewhat famous by the Gentleman Jack tv series. It is remarkable what Lister was able to do in an age when most women were not educated and homosexuality was frowned upon. Still, it is sad to read about how above all else, what Lister wanted was a life partner, and that was something that just wasn’t available to her. Sometimes it’s hard for me to read diaries of this era because I don’t always u This book represents a good chunk of the diaries of 19th century lesbian Anne Lister, recently made somewhat famous by the Gentleman Jack tv series. It is remarkable what Lister was able to do in an age when most women were not educated and homosexuality was frowned upon. Still, it is sad to read about how above all else, what Lister wanted was a life partner, and that was something that just wasn’t available to her. Sometimes it’s hard for me to read diaries of this era because I don’t always understand the terminology or what is really going on. It is a glimpse into daily life of 19th century English landed gentry.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Teddy

    Took me 3.5 yrs to read, but worth it! It's a primary source, so not super compelling in of itself, but I'm very very glad I read it. Took me 3.5 yrs to read, but worth it! It's a primary source, so not super compelling in of itself, but I'm very very glad I read it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    This is a fascinating look into Anne Lister's life, but I'm glad I read it after watching the show and reading the companion book, which gave me better context for this. There's something weird and wonderful about reading words someone wrote 200 years ago and knowing they lived and breathed just as surely as I do now. I thought about that a lot as I read. And Anne came across as so confident in the previous media I'd consumed that glimpsing her insecurities and flaws was humanizing. This is a fascinating look into Anne Lister's life, but I'm glad I read it after watching the show and reading the companion book, which gave me better context for this. There's something weird and wonderful about reading words someone wrote 200 years ago and knowing they lived and breathed just as surely as I do now. I thought about that a lot as I read. And Anne came across as so confident in the previous media I'd consumed that glimpsing her insecurities and flaws was humanizing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nickie

    Finished her. Dead sea scrolls of lesbian history and basis of HBO/BBC's Gentleman Jack. Can't believe I'd never heard of her before. When I was a teenager I'd read The Well Of Loneliness or whatever and you'd have to intuit from some oblique reference to a lunar occurrence that an orgasm had somehow been had. This would have been far more illuminating. She is impressively busy. Never got a knock back. But it's tragic too. Women couldn't afford to be lesbians then. Men held the pursestrings. She Finished her. Dead sea scrolls of lesbian history and basis of HBO/BBC's Gentleman Jack. Can't believe I'd never heard of her before. When I was a teenager I'd read The Well Of Loneliness or whatever and you'd have to intuit from some oblique reference to a lunar occurrence that an orgasm had somehow been had. This would have been far more illuminating. She is impressively busy. Never got a knock back. But it's tragic too. Women couldn't afford to be lesbians then. Men held the pursestrings. She's a massive snob and conservative and hard to like, dresses as she pleases and refuses to bend to society's constraints and easy to like. It does hurt her, but she rises above it. Many long passages about scraping out her teeth with a palette knife, venereal pus and an obsession with health which can make her seem neurotic when you forget that these were times when you could drop dead of a cold. Nice account of Lord Byron's death. I can't say I loved this. I might have preferred a biography. But altogether someone I'm glad to have found out about.

  19. 5 out of 5

    C.E. Case

    Great editing. Everything remained interesting. Anne's love successes and failures, her trips, her family life, her pursuit of education, her devouring of cold veal. Reading the raw diaries can be extremely tedious, so having this format is a godsend. Thank you, Helena! Great editing. Everything remained interesting. Anne's love successes and failures, her trips, her family life, her pursuit of education, her devouring of cold veal. Reading the raw diaries can be extremely tedious, so having this format is a godsend. Thank you, Helena!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    I cannot overstate the importance of this volume, which contains just a small selection of the diaries of our early nineteenth-century Shane. Anne Lister wanted to be a gentleman rogue, and she did quite well for herself, despite the odds. Anne conquered many a “straight” woman in her day, but she really just longed for a lifelong companion. She really absolutely is the most lesbian of all lesbians. I do wish this selection of her voluminous diaries was a bit more expansive, but I understand why I cannot overstate the importance of this volume, which contains just a small selection of the diaries of our early nineteenth-century Shane. Anne Lister wanted to be a gentleman rogue, and she did quite well for herself, despite the odds. Anne conquered many a “straight” woman in her day, but she really just longed for a lifelong companion. She really absolutely is the most lesbian of all lesbians. I do wish this selection of her voluminous diaries was a bit more expansive, but I understand why it’s not. I am sure an enterprising woman is currently working on a gay-stuff-only volume, which we all will buy the moment it is published.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    *This is not the exact edition I read. My edition was 360 pages and only included 6 years of Anne's diary. Actually, let's start off with that. Including the years of Anne's birth and death suggested (to me) that this book was going to include the entirety of her diaries. I heard about Anne Lister from an episode of the wonderful Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, which referenced I Know My Own Heart and made me determined to include it in June's reviews honoring Pride month. Anne lived i *This is not the exact edition I read. My edition was 360 pages and only included 6 years of Anne's diary. Actually, let's start off with that. Including the years of Anne's birth and death suggested (to me) that this book was going to include the entirety of her diaries. I heard about Anne Lister from an episode of the wonderful Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, which referenced I Know My Own Heart and made me determined to include it in June's reviews honoring Pride month. Anne lived in early 1800's England, helping her aunt and uncle run Shibden Hall and assuming its management entirely after their deaths in the 1820s. She was well-educated, flirtatious, and sassy. Anne wrote frankly about being attracted exclusively to women - she doesn't use the word lesbian and I believe her diaries predate the inclusion of that word in the lexicon - and had many romantic and sexual relationships. In her later years she, and the lifelong companion she finally found, travelled extensively until Anne's death from fever at the foot of the Caucasian Mountains. The travel portion of her life especially piqued my interest. I was decidedly non-plussed to discover the edition I had borrowed ended before she was able to indulge her wanderlust. There's even a note saying the diaries from that part of her life "are beyond the scope of this book." BUT WHY? ARE YOU PUBLISHING A SEQUEL?? (Apparently not?) Furthermore, language has evolved somewhat since the 1800's. Anne's word choices and sentence structure are often baffling. There aren't really enough footnotes to make her writing completely accessible to a modern reader. Though Anne's handwriting is often unintelligible when she's not writing in code so I can only imagine what the editors went through to make even a small portion of her diaries readable. For which they have my gratitude. This was an interesting snap shot into the minutiae of an interesting woman's life, but if you are going to pick it up see if you can find a copy that includes a larger portion of her life and has more foot notes.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rowan Adams

    This was a “I’m really glad I read this as a historical record” type book, rather than madly enjoying it. Yet it was a wonderful feeling to think “I’m reading about the life of an extraordinary, defiant, queer woman” in history. I probably would’ve disliked Lister if I’d known her. She was selfish and arrogant, deceitful and capricious. But she was a woman who asserted her self-actualisation to the full in a time which put a million barriers in her way. The brittle tenacity that must’ve made her a This was a “I’m really glad I read this as a historical record” type book, rather than madly enjoying it. Yet it was a wonderful feeling to think “I’m reading about the life of an extraordinary, defiant, queer woman” in history. I probably would’ve disliked Lister if I’d known her. She was selfish and arrogant, deceitful and capricious. But she was a woman who asserted her self-actualisation to the full in a time which put a million barriers in her way. The brittle tenacity that must’ve made her a real pain in the arse also enabled her to put two fingers up to convention. It did cross my mind while reading this diary whether today Anne would have identified as a trans man. I’m no expert on how C19th Britain viewed gender identity. She certainly longs to be a man on some level, not just in dress, but in how she behaves and how she experiences herself. The sexual desire she feels for other women is rakish and predatory. But obviously there’s no way of knowing whether this would translate to a modern conception of trans. She’s certainly an excellent early example of “stone butch”, though. Unmissable if you’re interested in feminist and/or queer history.

  23. 4 out of 5

    lauraღ

    ‘Burnt Mr Montagu’s farewell verses that no trace of any man’s admiration may remain. It is not meet for me. I love and only love the fairer sex and thus, beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs.’ Loved it, loved it, loved it. Having watched the show Gentleman Jack and fallen in love with Anne, I knew I would want to read the diaries that inspired it. This first account, taken from the years 1816-1824, and therefore long before the show even begins, tells us so mu ‘Burnt Mr Montagu’s farewell verses that no trace of any man’s admiration may remain. It is not meet for me. I love and only love the fairer sex and thus, beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs.’ Loved it, loved it, loved it. Having watched the show Gentleman Jack and fallen in love with Anne, I knew I would want to read the diaries that inspired it. This first account, taken from the years 1816-1824, and therefore long before the show even begins, tells us so much about the woman Anne was, the woman she was becoming, her triumphs and her disappointments and the loves in her life. Historical lesbian romance is my favourite genre, being a lesbian who loves romance novels and history and seeing oneself in books. And though this is obviously not a romance, it still satisfied so very deeply the part of me that just... LOVES seeing this type of love and knowing that it has always existed, no matter what other people think/say on the subject. Seeing her desire women, yearn to be loved by them in return, the way she presented, the way she reacted when encountering other lesbian women out in the wild... I loved it so much! I couldn't help but compare it to the show, and I really think that in casting and writing they did a perfect job of bringing life to this fascinating, accomplished, intelligent, deeply flawed woman. And I do mean deeply flawed; Anne is no candidate for lesbian of the year. She was extremely classist, a monarchist to the bone, could be selfish and manipulative, super obsessed with upward advancement and how she was seen by 'good society', had some whack ideas about women (she was totally against universal suffrage). But she was also kind and loving and generous and gallant and very fair minded in a way I didn't expect. She took absolutely no shit from men (and they tried to give her a lot; the harassment that she faced for acting and dressing the way she did was horrendous) and was super clever and voracious about learning. This selection from her journals covers a period after Mariana was already married, but they were still closely attached, and details her entanglements with Mariana Lawton, Anne Belcombe, Isabella Norcliffe, her infatuation with Maria Browne, and a wealth of details about her family relationships and the friends and acquaintances she cultivated. Ann doesn't appear very much, but appear she does! It was also very interesting just as a historical read, to get to learn little things about the time period: food, culture, money matters, travelling, etc. Great great read, I really look forward to reading the other volumes. However, I will never fear. Be firm. Learn to have nerve to protect myself & make the best of all things. [...] Pray against this & for God’s protection & blessing, & then face the days undaunted.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ape

    This has been fascinating, but how to score it or even if we should be reading it is a question. Although it's fascinating and well worth a read, I think you've got to be interested in particular angles - women's history, Victoriana, Yorkshire, LGBT History, Diary and journal writing etc for it to be of interest, and then it is great, but I wouldn't say it's a read that's going to grab everyone. And then there's the point of these being diaries. When Anne Lister wrote these, she wasn't thinking This has been fascinating, but how to score it or even if we should be reading it is a question. Although it's fascinating and well worth a read, I think you've got to be interested in particular angles - women's history, Victoriana, Yorkshire, LGBT History, Diary and journal writing etc for it to be of interest, and then it is great, but I wouldn't say it's a read that's going to grab everyone. And then there's the point of these being diaries. When Anne Lister wrote these, she wasn't thinking of publication. They were for her own use, and she even comments more than once how writing things down brings solace to her. So should we be reading them even? Or do we read a point where they are historical documents rather than personal writings? One thing to bear in mind is that diary writing catches you in all moods, feeling sorry for yourself, being angry with the world... and in venting you can express yourself in ways you wouldn't when calm. And as you're expecting no one else to read the diary, you will be very blunt. I'm not saying Anne Lister wasn't an elitist snob, and certainly an intellectual one, but when reading what she writes about people, I think these things need to be kept in mind. As Bridget Jones once said, everyone knows diaries are just full of shit. To read about a woman's life in Yorkshire in the first half of the 1800s, and to acknowledge that women wanted to learn and develope themselves, wanted to travel, explore, manage their own lives and estates AND, that they could have zero interest in men but love women, ought not to be shocking, but it comes out of the mould for what we imagine of a Victorian woman with reasonable family and money so that she didn't have to work for a living but could indulge herself. It's also interesting to see how she changes and developes. It's almost a teenage longing for a girlfriend at the start, and getting excited over woman after woman all the time. But not of them live up. Then her major love, Mariana, even letting her down and admitting that Anne's appearence and demeanour embarasses her, and we read just how much this hurts Anne. Towards the end she is becoming disillushioned, perhaps a little more realistic about love, but also full of curiosity and wanting to see the wider world. This volume cover from 1816 to 1824, at which point she's looking to spread her wings, finishing on a trip around the Lake District, including Anne off moutaineering over the fells (not the genteel ladies you might imagine enjoying a view from the carriage) and plans of going to Paris. For anyone who has only come across Anne Lister through television, this is all pre the tv series. And for anyone who knows nothing, Anne Lister lived in Halifax, specifically Shibden Hall, in the first half of the 1800s. Although she was born over at Market Weighton in East Yorkshire, she spent increasing amounts of time at Shibden and did eventually inherit the estate on her uncle's death. She never married, did eventually get her life partner and travelled extensively. Another aspect I love about this, is that, living in Yorkshire, I know all of the places she travels about to, visiting and staying with friends, taking holidays etc. It makes it all the more relevant.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Em

    I'm done!! Finally!! That felt like it took forever. Not sure how to rate this. 3? 4? my rating scale is only calibrated for fiction. Definitely recommend if you're interested in first person accounts of wlw life in the early 1800s. Anne herself I found mostly unlikable. She's unsatisfied with her place in life (which is a pretty good place!), dislikes most of the other families in town, snubs them and then is upset when they don't keep up the friendship. Anytime anyone gets something wrong, she I'm done!! Finally!! That felt like it took forever. Not sure how to rate this. 3? 4? my rating scale is only calibrated for fiction. Definitely recommend if you're interested in first person accounts of wlw life in the early 1800s. Anne herself I found mostly unlikable. She's unsatisfied with her place in life (which is a pretty good place!), dislikes most of the other families in town, snubs them and then is upset when they don't keep up the friendship. Anytime anyone gets something wrong, she writes in her diary that she feels /she/ would've done it much better. Anyone she doesn't like is vulgar, and she'll write things down like "I assured so-and-so of us always being great friends, but I intend to never visit her again if I can help it". The first hand account of 1800s lesbianism is unparalleled. She thinks (and at least per her diary she seems to be right) that she can have pretty much any woman she wants, and has several flings in among some long term lovers. She writes frequently of her need for a female companion to live out her life with. She did have plans for this, but the woman in question married, and though they are still in correspondence and planning to eventually be their own household, the husband is a problem. Once she gets a venereal disease things slow down a bit, but not before she's passed it on! The parts I really enjoyed were the little bits of life in such a different time. There's a leech-woman, who Anne requests for bleeding separate from the local doctor. She descales her teeth with a pen-knife but also mentions buying tooth brushes several times. Clock time wasn't standardized, so she will sometimes mention by what clock she's noting the time and how it differs compared to say, the church tower. She walks SO MUCH, and seems to only eat two meals a day, plus sometimes tea. I do recommend it if you're interested in LGBTQ history of the time period. The footnotes are in the back (ugh!! I know it's standard but I hate it) and seemed targeted at an academic reader interested specifically in 1830s Halifax, not a lay person such as myself - I didn't find them very useful. I also could've used a quick-reference character guide, as the recurring Halifax families started to get confusing. But the editor includes occasional summations of changes in Anne's life, her travel plans, etc, that help keep things easy to follow.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Borie

    Sometimes you read the diary of the first modern lesbian* or the prison letters of the most famous gay man of all time and all you can do is say “dang, you should break up with loser, all they do is torture you emotionally.” Stars: they’re just like us! Eight years of diaries have been edited very slyly by Helen Whitbread, with the coded passages thankfully translated so we can understand all the parts about affairs of the heart, venereal disease, and clothing (idk, Anne was very private about he Sometimes you read the diary of the first modern lesbian* or the prison letters of the most famous gay man of all time and all you can do is say “dang, you should break up with loser, all they do is torture you emotionally.” Stars: they’re just like us! Eight years of diaries have been edited very slyly by Helen Whitbread, with the coded passages thankfully translated so we can understand all the parts about affairs of the heart, venereal disease, and clothing (idk, Anne was very private about her clothes I guess). The whole thing is worth a read but if you, as I confess I sometimes did, get bored by the minutiae of how many walnuts one ate after dinner, the italicized parts are what was originally written in code and generally the juicier parts, easily visually distinguishable so you can skip to them if you please. There’s even a kind of plot structure to the book, even though it’s true to life— Anne goes from heartbroken about her lover’s recent marriage and debating changing her style of dress in 1816 to self-assuredly limiting her romantic involvement with said lover and embracing her masculine appearance by 1824. The book ends years before she sets her eye on Ann Walker, so heads-up if you’re looking for a feel-good lesbian love story: you will not find it in these years. These years are all about Mariana, who kind of sucks, although that’s fitting because Anne also kind of sucks; at one point, Anne expresses of another woman that she’s too educated to make a good companion because Anne liked her girlfriends feminine and silly, which is reductive and kind of mean, especially considering Anne valued her own education highly. Anne also constantly calls people vulgar in a way that invites the reader to consider that Anne is as judgmental of others as they are of her! It’s really fun, though. I’ve had a good time walking through this history, and am grateful to the journal-keepers of the world, of which I am not one, that things like this can exist. *I’m not the queer historian who made this claim about what lesbianism is and who was and wasn’t one and I’m not going to argue with anyone about it

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Symanczyk

    Anne Lister's diaries are remarkable. Remarkable that they survived at all, that they were deciphered, that she wrote so much, and that they are so astonishingly frank. It's like reading an R-rated Jane Austen novel, complete with leeches, STDs, bowel complaints and lesbian seduction. Faced with such a volume of work, Whitbread focuses on a few formative years in Anne's life and highlights both her day-to-day life and her relationships with her lovers and the people in her home town of Halifax. Anne Lister's diaries are remarkable. Remarkable that they survived at all, that they were deciphered, that she wrote so much, and that they are so astonishingly frank. It's like reading an R-rated Jane Austen novel, complete with leeches, STDs, bowel complaints and lesbian seduction. Faced with such a volume of work, Whitbread focuses on a few formative years in Anne's life and highlights both her day-to-day life and her relationships with her lovers and the people in her home town of Halifax. I really appreciated her interjections that put the diary entries into a bit of context for the reader. It's absolutely fascinating both as a memoir and as a historical document, and Anne emerges as a wonderfully complex woman: practical, sexual, intelligent and more than a little bit of a snob (I am convinced that she would find me very vulgar company indeed). I would happily read a second volume that explores her relationship with Anne Walker (I, too, discovered Anne through the TV series). I would also love to read about what some of the people she interacted with regularly thought of this singular woman.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    A fascinating look at the life of a genteel lady in early 19th century England. That she was also a lesbian is entirely secondary to the fact that she was an intelligent and independently minded woman as far as I can see. She was in many ways a bit of an arse; a serious snob who thought nothing of 'cutting' people if they were too 'vulgar ' or common for her to associate with, and certainly a true blue tory when it came to dealing with tenants, her behaviour with romantic relationships was incre A fascinating look at the life of a genteel lady in early 19th century England. That she was also a lesbian is entirely secondary to the fact that she was an intelligent and independently minded woman as far as I can see. She was in many ways a bit of an arse; a serious snob who thought nothing of 'cutting' people if they were too 'vulgar ' or common for her to associate with, and certainly a true blue tory when it came to dealing with tenants, her behaviour with romantic relationships was incredibly modern in many respects and some of this diary read like a Jane Austen/Fleabag mash up- that Anne wished to visit Paris largely to consult doctors about an std she believed she had contracted from her married lover, did sound like something you might read in a Cosmo help page. Considering the taboos of the age, Anne managed to live her life pretty openly, certainly with no more concealment than you might have had even in the mid 20th century, both a testament to how far we have come in the last couple of decades and to how slowly we reached this point.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Pony

    Discovered Shibden Hall and dearest Anne long before the BBC, nice now to have access to her diary. Before you get carried away most of the BBC stuff is made up and a load of nonsense. The diary was originally partly in code, Anne was having lesbian affairs with several local girls and was (rather regrettably) not very responsible when it came to STD's, she gave the clap to all her girl friends! Despite this and her nagging self-doubts you end up just wanting her to find a wife and settle down. Discovered Shibden Hall and dearest Anne long before the BBC, nice now to have access to her diary. Before you get carried away most of the BBC stuff is made up and a load of nonsense. The diary was originally partly in code, Anne was having lesbian affairs with several local girls and was (rather regrettably) not very responsible when it came to STD's, she gave the clap to all her girl friends! Despite this and her nagging self-doubts you end up just wanting her to find a wife and settle down. She tries so, so hard to be equal to a man (and I think she certainly is) and make up for the differences in education and opportunity. I know the area well and have followed some of her walks into Halifax. A wonderful diary which leaves you proud of Anne, angry at Anne and weeing for Anne. Read it, (you'll need to speed read through some parts, and there won't be the scenes the Beeb has imagined, but it still good!!) and ponder. Toni Cheval loved it!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    Update: Finally done! I found Anne Lister from the show Gentleman Jack. I had to learn more about her, and found these books about her diaries (this is the first one). It is slow going . . . the language is period and hard to figure out sometimes. Also, she's an elitist classist snob of the worst sort. I hate how she treats people, including her love interests. That being said, the fact that she was a woman of independent means and a desire and interest for deep learning fascinates me. The only Update: Finally done! I found Anne Lister from the show Gentleman Jack. I had to learn more about her, and found these books about her diaries (this is the first one). It is slow going . . . the language is period and hard to figure out sometimes. Also, she's an elitist classist snob of the worst sort. I hate how she treats people, including her love interests. That being said, the fact that she was a woman of independent means and a desire and interest for deep learning fascinates me. The only reason she was able to do this was because she came from an upper class family with the means to leave her wealth in the form of property and funds. Otherwise, she would have had to get married to a guy even if she didn't want to or live destitute like poor and lower class women of the period in that area.

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