Tuesday, March 29, 2016

BBC's "The Real Anne Lister", biography of a 19th Century wealthy English lesbian, and her own Rosetta Stone


BBC-Oxford has a television documentary “The Real Anne Lister”, directed by Matthew Hill and narrated by Sue Perkins (2010, 58 min).  This is a biography of the lesbian English businesswoman (1791-1840)  who left the world her autobiography in a 4-million word diary, much of it in code that had to be decrypted.

The secret part dealt with her life as a lesbian, even finally having an Anglican gay marriage (in effect) in 1833 with Ann Walker, where Lister regarded herself as the husband. A descendant decoded the work in the late 1890s, and, homosexual himself, was afraid to let it become public, as homosexuality was a crime at the time (Oscar Wilde, all the way to the time of Alan Turing).  In the 1930s, a British librarian refused to release it, in the aftermath of the scandal over the lesbian novel “The Wall of Loneliness” by Rebecca Hall”. In the 1960s the town of Halifax still had control over whether her memoirs could be published (an odd notion today given US law about freedom of speech, which did not apply in Britain).  They could not be published until 1988.  The diaries are thought of as "The Rosetta Stone of 19th Century Lesbianism".
 
It's perplexing why older societies could not afford to even let homosexuality be spoken about, as if doing so would spoil the marriage experience for everyone.
 

Lister had sent the diaries to another female friend, Eliza, who would be put in an asylum for her inability to adapt to the demands of the world, and die forgotten.

Lister had been sent to a private school and would be expelled because of her own behavior regarding Eliza. But to some extent, affection among women had been permitted if stayed within a certain area of sentimentality, which men saw as preparing them for marriage.

She became rich when she inherited her uncle’s estate, because there was no male heir. She became an astute businesswoman in the growing British coal industry.

She would travel to Russia and die of a tick-borne plague.

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of Halifax by Mr. Barndoor, under CCSA 3.0

I have a secret diary with all the names coded by private abbreviations.

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