Regency era England is often regarded as a world of fluttery Jane Austen-types, high tea and button-down sexuality. However, the fascinating and largely unknown figure of Anne Lister, and her extensively juicy diaries, pry open a very different account of the times.
Watching the recent BBC telemovie based on Lister’s life, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, it struck me that there seemed to be an inordinate quota of lesbians living within a rather small slice of early 19th Century Yorkshire countryside. Picking-up at church and getting off in the bushes is depicted as a regularity. I first considered this a sort of warped contemporary imagining of Regent era sexuality, yet upon some research, it appears Anne Lister’s story is, incredibly, true, and the filmmakers were afforded the luxury of a vast amount of source material to draw from.
Lister’s diaries, spanning over 34 years and four million words, have been dubbed the Rosetta Stone of lesbian history. Along with musings about the weather and money troubles, she documented fervently her intimacies with other women, the latter part of which she disguised in an elaborate, self-formulated code. After her death these documents were hidden and deliberately suppressed, decoded by a relative in the 1890s, yet not fully published until the 1980s. read more>>