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The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,416 ratings  ·  160 reviews
An alternate cover edition can be found here.

Anne Lister defied the role of womanhood seen in the novels of Jane Austen: she was bold, fiercely independent, a landowner, industrialist, traveler, and a lesbian. She kept extensive diaries of her life and loves, written partly in code. Made up of Greek letters mingled with other symbols of her own devising, Anne referred to t
Paperback, 422 pages
Published June 19th 2012 by Virago (first published August 1st 1992)
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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
Jennifer (JC-S)
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer (JC-S) by:
Shelves: librarybooks
‘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
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
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 ...more
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
She was such a twat, I love everything about her. What a delight.
Hadas Tsury
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing woman! What a life she had!
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 ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 13, 2015 rated it liked it
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
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
May 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Kath Middleton
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
عمران ابن مصر
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it

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
Oct 15, 2012 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Artnoose McMoose
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbtq
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. ...more
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
C.E. Case
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
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 ...more
*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
Rowan Adams
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘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
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 ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
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
Melinda Borie
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Melissa Symanczyk
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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 ...more
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Anne Lister (1791–1840) was a well-off Yorkshire landowner, diarist and traveller. Throughout her life she kept diaries which chronicled the details of her everyday life, including her lesbian relationships, her financial concerns, her industrial activities and her work improving Shibden Hall. Her diaries contain more than 4,000,000 words and about a sixth of them—those concerning the intimate det ...more

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“Friday 22 June 1821 [Halifax]

I owe a good deal to this journal. By unburdening my mind on paper I feel, as it were, in some degree to get rid of it; it seems made over to a friend that hears it patiently, keeps it faithfully, and by never forgetting anything, is always ready to compare the past & present and thus to cheer & edify the future.”
“[I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am made unlike anyone I have ever met. I dare to say I am like no one in the whole world.]” 13 likes
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