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The extraordinary life of history's first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack Anne Lister's journals were so shocking that the first person to crack their secret code hid them behind a fake panel in his ancestral home. Anne Lister was a Regency landowner, an intrepid world traveller ... and an unabashed lover of other women. In this bold new The extraordinary life of history's first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack Anne Lister's journals were so shocking that the first person to crack their secret code hid them behind a fake panel in his ancestral home. Anne Lister was a Regency landowner, an intrepid world traveller ... and an unabashed lover of other women. In this bold new biography, prizewinning author Angela Steidele uses the diaries to create a portrait of Anne Lister as we've never seen her before: a woman in some ways very much of her time and in others far ahead of it. Anne Lister recorded everything from the most intimate details of her numerous liaisons through to her plans to make her fortune by exploiting the coal seams under her family estate in Halifax and her reaction to the Peterloo massacre. She conducted a love life of labyrinthine complexity, all while searching for a girlfriend who could provide her with both financial security and true love. Anne Lister's rich and unconventional life is now the subject of the major BBC TV drama series Gentleman Jack.


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The extraordinary life of history's first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack Anne Lister's journals were so shocking that the first person to crack their secret code hid them behind a fake panel in his ancestral home. Anne Lister was a Regency landowner, an intrepid world traveller ... and an unabashed lover of other women. In this bold new The extraordinary life of history's first modern lesbian who inspired the television series Gentleman Jack Anne Lister's journals were so shocking that the first person to crack their secret code hid them behind a fake panel in his ancestral home. Anne Lister was a Regency landowner, an intrepid world traveller ... and an unabashed lover of other women. In this bold new biography, prizewinning author Angela Steidele uses the diaries to create a portrait of Anne Lister as we've never seen her before: a woman in some ways very much of her time and in others far ahead of it. Anne Lister recorded everything from the most intimate details of her numerous liaisons through to her plans to make her fortune by exploiting the coal seams under her family estate in Halifax and her reaction to the Peterloo massacre. She conducted a love life of labyrinthine complexity, all while searching for a girlfriend who could provide her with both financial security and true love. Anne Lister's rich and unconventional life is now the subject of the major BBC TV drama series Gentleman Jack.

30 review for Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist

  1. 5 out of 5

    Auntie Terror

    If Don Juan had met Anne Lister, he'd habe become depressed. [Prtf]

  2. 5 out of 5

    John Anthony

    A book that will stay with me for weeks to come I suspect. It leaves much to ponder upon. I’ve no hesitation in recommending it, especially if British history’s your thing, social, cultural, political. An interest in diversity might help too, along with travel. Here you would read how an ambitious and highly charged lesbian on the perimeter of the landed aristocracy sought fulfilment. Old money forced, because of the turn in the economic tide, to mingle with the new. There is much to admire about A book that will stay with me for weeks to come I suspect. It leaves much to ponder upon. I’ve no hesitation in recommending it, especially if British history’s your thing, social, cultural, political. An interest in diversity might help too, along with travel. Here you would read how an ambitious and highly charged lesbian on the perimeter of the landed aristocracy sought fulfilment. Old money forced, because of the turn in the economic tide, to mingle with the new. There is much to admire about Anne Lister, much less to like. Her diary is shocking, not so much in the secrets of the boudoir but in the rather brazen accounts of how she manipulated people to her own advantage - sexually, materially, even politically. She was totally at ease with her sexuality, certainly free from feelings of guilt, in an age of moral proscription. That ought to make her a ‘gay icon’. But in today’s world where diversity is all important, she is totally out of step. She was an arch reactionary – on the side of the authorities over the Peterloo massacre, opposed to the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 and the sworn enemy of the infant trade unions. As a woman, Anne Lister could not of course vote directly in parliamentary elections. But as a canny operator of power, and the systems at her disposal, she could rely on 20 or so votes from her heavily leaned upon tenants. It is hard to believe that had she lived into the twentieth century she would have had any truck with the suffragettes. Anne Lister had boundless energy, physical, mental and sexual. She was well read, cultured, a classicist and an inveterate and hardy traveller. She was also keenly interested in scientific discovery, industrial developments, advances in medical science; she studied anatomy and was quite at home with a knife in her hand with which she dissected humans and animals. She lacked the material resources to fund her lifestyle, hence her alliance and ‘marriage’ with Ann Walker (‘new’ money as opposed to the Listers’ ‘old’). As proprietor of her family estates Anne did what had been done for generations before her - she ‘married’ well. I feel that her partner Ann Walker deserves a book of her own, however slim: ‘The Wife’s Story’ perhaps? When Anne Lister’s physical health finally failed her during her arduous trek with Ann W in and around Russia, it was the latter who transported her body back to Halifax to be buried in the family vault there. Ann Walker's story is a sad one, she was incarcerated in a mental asylum by her family on her return to England. There she joined Anne Lister’s first lover. The Asylum was a growth industry then – a useful dumping ground for Society in which to incarcerate troublesome individuals - for their own good of course! I can’t help thinking that had Anne Lister lived she might have done the same and for similar reasons.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan

    Gentleman Jack is a biography of Anne Lister, Regency Yorkshire landowner known for her relationships with women and explicit diaries partly written in code. Full of quotations from her diaries, it is a good biography for anything looking for an introduction to Lister's life and what she wrote about in her diaries. Likely to be of most interest are her various relationships with women—often surprisingly openly for Regency society—and her interest in travel, scaling mountains and visiting countri Gentleman Jack is a biography of Anne Lister, Regency Yorkshire landowner known for her relationships with women and explicit diaries partly written in code. Full of quotations from her diaries, it is a good biography for anything looking for an introduction to Lister's life and what she wrote about in her diaries. Likely to be of most interest are her various relationships with women—often surprisingly openly for Regency society—and her interest in travel, scaling mountains and visiting countries across Europe and even Azerbaijan. Steidele also weaves in elements of the act of uncoding Lister's diaries and the reticence of earlier generations to reveal their explicit lesbian sex, which is crucial to thinking about the reception of Anne Lister. Before the BBC's upcoming drama of the same name, the biography is a good way to learn more about a fascinating historical figure. It is engaging and readable, giving enough explanatory detail that you don't need to know the period well. Without knowing a huge amount about scholarship around Lister, it is difficult to comment on its accuracy and depiction of her, but it certainly is an interesting book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    sassafrass

    I initially picked this book up for two reasons. The first is, as I work in a bookshop, keeping up to date with upcoming releases makes my life much easier when talking to customers about the books they were based on. HBO is dramatising Anne Lister's life, more specifically they are basing their interpretation off this particular biography. The other reason is that as a gay woman, I am always hungry for LGBT history in any form. I wanted desperately to feel some sort of connection, to hook my ow I initially picked this book up for two reasons. The first is, as I work in a bookshop, keeping up to date with upcoming releases makes my life much easier when talking to customers about the books they were based on. HBO is dramatising Anne Lister's life, more specifically they are basing their interpretation off this particular biography. The other reason is that as a gay woman, I am always hungry for LGBT history in any form. I wanted desperately to feel some sort of connection, to hook my own longings onto the chain of women before me and not feel so isolated in my experiences. Alas, rather than find any kind of unity, I found myself hating Anne Lister with every turn of the page. She was an egomaniac, finding fault in all of her lovers for swathes of reasons, all of them demonstrating more about Anne's personality flaws and inflated pride than damning any of her rejected women. She found some too unintelligent, others weren't rich enough, others too far below her in social standing. She didn't like any woman who had slept with a man, preferring virgins who had not been 'spoiled.' She didn't like her lovers to be assertive, preferring them passive and docile both in the bedroom and in day to day life. Monogamy was boring for her, but rather than tell her various lovers that, she preferred to lie and quite literally cheat. Frequently many of them, understandably, suffered from break downs and depression which Anne, hilariously, never fathoms that she herself might be the cause. Two of her lovers ended up in mental asylums - the first and the last - the first, Eliza Raine, Anne encouraged to have incarcerated for life so she would be unable to testify against her in court. It's not the biographers fault if the subject is repulsive, but I also found Steidele's approach too neutral, and lacking any kind of spark. It was more like reading a chart of a life, rather than steeping myself in the time and world of Anne Lister. Anyway, if you're going into this looking for any kind of familiarity, I will be greatly concerned if you find any. As a record the history of love between women, it is a great starting off point (there are several names dropped in this book that I want to explore further) but is hardly in depth. I have no idea how to end this review so uhhhh Toodles!

  5. 5 out of 5

    K. A. MacKinnon

    Please, please do not read this book. Seriously. If you’re actually interested in learning about Anne Lister, this is not the book for you. This book is judge, jury, and executioner to its subject, which feels like a complete violation of the rules of a biography. You can tell just by the table of contents - her life is divided up not by milestone events but by the women she seduces. Because clearly when someone isn’t straight, the only interesting thing about them is their sex life. Everything e Please, please do not read this book. Seriously. If you’re actually interested in learning about Anne Lister, this is not the book for you. This book is judge, jury, and executioner to its subject, which feels like a complete violation of the rules of a biography. You can tell just by the table of contents - her life is divided up not by milestone events but by the women she seduces. Because clearly when someone isn’t straight, the only interesting thing about them is their sex life. Everything else Lister was ever involved or interested in - except her travels - is dismissed with a couple of lines each. Worse, the biographer is making blatant value judgements along the way, without at any point engaging with the context in which her subject lived. In the last third of the book, she is openly derisive when describing Lister’s activities. To be clear, it’s not that I need this book to be a hagiography. I’ve read a few books about Lister at this point. I get that she could be an asshole. But she was also an intelligent woman navigating a man’s world in the early 19th century and walking the line of being an ‘out’ (sort of) lesbian when there had never been anyone before her to pattern her behaviour on. Except men. I doubt there would have been half so much judgement had the biographer been recounting the life of a young cad on the hunt for a rich bride. Context is important. And this biographer has NO grasp of that whatsoever, because she clearly doesn’t understand the context herself. In her final chapter she writes “In what we think of as the prudish pre-Victorian age, there seems to have been no great risk or consequence to women loving women and it was not thought wrong. They simply did not talk about it, and went on to marry apparently unsullied.” Just... WHAT?! How could this biographer have read the works of Jill Liddington and still come out with that kind of clumsy generalization? When Liddington’s work was all about the subtle ways the community found to express its disapproval of Anne Lister and her wife living together. When political rage towards Lister was expressed in the form of homophobic attacks. When she received taunting letters in the post and slurs hurled at her in the street throughout her life? I reference Liddington’s work here particularly because the biographer wrote this book without ever having read Anne Lister’s diaries for herself. She is entirely reliant upon secondary sources. The book is basically a recap of Helena Whitbread’s and Jill Liddington’s works, with some additional references to Lister’s letters and correspondence thrown in. Plus a LOT of editorializing - in addition to the steaming piles of judgement, the biographer regularly states her own interpretation as though it’s proven fact. And it’s interpretation based often on extremely thin evidence. So I say again, please don’t read this book. It strips Anne Lister of all depth and complexity. Please, please go read Jill Liddington’s work instead. It has just been released on both Kindle and Kobo, and occasional hard copies can be found at ABE Books.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    Gentleman Jack was an interesting read on many levels—firstly, as a commentary on the life of a lesbian in the early 19th century, and secondly, as an account of a fascinating woman who did some amazing things in the course of her life. Anne Lister was certainly quite a character, and while I was intrigued by her romantic exploits, it was more her extensive travels that gripped me. This work shines a light on a little-known figure who deserves more recognition. The only reason I give this book f Gentleman Jack was an interesting read on many levels—firstly, as a commentary on the life of a lesbian in the early 19th century, and secondly, as an account of a fascinating woman who did some amazing things in the course of her life. Anne Lister was certainly quite a character, and while I was intrigued by her romantic exploits, it was more her extensive travels that gripped me. This work shines a light on a little-known figure who deserves more recognition. The only reason I give this book four stars rather than five is the fact that, at times, I found the prose style a little tiresome. Although the story captivated me, the writing didn't. However, I certainly recommend this work to readers interested in queer history or those simply looking to learn more about fascinating personalities from the past. I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Anouk

    She's a Tory and a landlord but I love her

  8. 5 out of 5

    Celia T

    Okay: I think I need to take a break from this book because it is depressing the hell out of me. The more research I do on Anne Lister, the more it becomes clear that she was....in fact.......a horrible human being? I sort of went from thinking "well, she was a flawed human being like all of us, and it's unfair for me to hold her, as a queer woman, to a higher moral standard than I would hold a man from the same era," to thinking "Jesus Christ, even Byron never did anything THAT fucked up." And Okay: I think I need to take a break from this book because it is depressing the hell out of me. The more research I do on Anne Lister, the more it becomes clear that she was....in fact.......a horrible human being? I sort of went from thinking "well, she was a flawed human being like all of us, and it's unfair for me to hold her, as a queer woman, to a higher moral standard than I would hold a man from the same era," to thinking "Jesus Christ, even Byron never did anything THAT fucked up." And I know it shouldn't upset me so much to find out that a random woman who's been dead for hundreds of years was a total monster, but I am....devastated. So: I might just stop researching her and pretend that Anne as she is in the BBC show and Anne as she was in real life are two completely different, unrelated individuals. After all, as somebody pointed out to me when I was complaining about all this, the moral discrepancy between the characters of Brooklyn 99 and their real-life counterparts hasn't ruined that show for me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Avery Edwards

    Look, Anne Lister was a terrible, terrible person. But if you can stomach reading about pretty much any white male landowner with a host of lovers from the nineteenth century, you can handle this. Mr. Rochester turned female is no less awful, and worse because she was a real person. But it means something as modern LGBT+ people, to see someone like us, openly living their truth, hundreds of years ago. Anne's girlfriends were all fascinating women, and I wanted to know more about them and less ab Look, Anne Lister was a terrible, terrible person. But if you can stomach reading about pretty much any white male landowner with a host of lovers from the nineteenth century, you can handle this. Mr. Rochester turned female is no less awful, and worse because she was a real person. But it means something as modern LGBT+ people, to see someone like us, openly living their truth, hundreds of years ago. Anne's girlfriends were all fascinating women, and I wanted to know more about them and less about her! It's a shame that the same virtue of self-assurance which led her to lead her life with as much confidence as she did, is also the same vice that caused her to hurt the people around her repeatedly and behave incredibly selfishly. As the author says, "first she seduced me - then she betrayed me, much like her real lovers." Highly entertaining, though the travel towards the end did have me skimming a little. And food for thought - because my god did Miss Lister manage to bed a lot of women, so is lesbianism in history *really* as rare as we pretend?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    a groundbreaking new biography of Anne Lister, Regency landowner, seducer and proud lesbian during a time when it was difficult simply to be female. With the code to her secret diaries now cracked, we get to know her many lovers ... a groundbreaking new biography of Anne Lister, Regency landowner, seducer and proud lesbian during a time when it was difficult simply to be female. With the code to her secret diaries now cracked, we get to know her many lovers ...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carmella

    **Originally posted to Lesbrary.com** Earlier this year, HBO and the BBC treated us to Suranne Jones swaggering across the screen in butch Victorian get-up, playing the character of Anne Lister. The first season of Gentleman Jack follows just a segment of Anne’s life starting in 1832, as she woos her future life-partner, Ann Walker. While I loved the show, it left me wanting to know more. What was Anne Lister really like? Who was she before 1832, and how does her story end? This led me to pick up **Originally posted to Lesbrary.com** Earlier this year, HBO and the BBC treated us to Suranne Jones swaggering across the screen in butch Victorian get-up, playing the character of Anne Lister. The first season of Gentleman Jack follows just a segment of Anne’s life starting in 1832, as she woos her future life-partner, Ann Walker. While I loved the show, it left me wanting to know more. What was Anne Lister really like? Who was she before 1832, and how does her story end? This led me to pick up Angela Steidele’s biography (also titled Gentleman Jack, which was an insulting nickname for Anne used by the townspeople of Halifax) to find out all about her for myself. In case you haven’t come across her before, Anne Lister was a Regency era landowner from West Yorkshire. She’s now remembered as ‘the first modern lesbian’, mostly thanks to the extensive diaries she left behind, in which she recorded everything from her opinions on the pressing political issues of the time to the minutiae of everyday life – and, encoded in her secret ‘crypt hand’, explicit details of her numerous sexual affairs with other women. These diaries run to over four million words, but thankfully Steidele has condensed them into a very readable 338 pages for those of us who don’t quite have enough time to manage them in full! Gentleman Jack follows Anne’s life in chronological order, separated into chapters named after her girlfriends – which is an entertaining touch. As a history fan, I found the delve into the life of an unconventional Regency woman compelling, and welcomed the chance to learn more about the era. One of my favourite sections was the story of Anne’s first girlfriend, Eliza Raine. Eliza was the mixed race child of an English man and an Indian woman, born in Madras and raised in Yorkshire. When the Regency era is so often portrayed as exclusively white (think of most adaptations of Austen and the Brontës), hearing Eliza’s story is proof that this wasn’t the case. Ultimately, it wasn’t a happy ending for Eliza, who was committed to a mental asylum. Steidele even suggests that Eliza may have been a model for Charlotte Brontë’s character Mrs Rochester – the ‘madwoman in the attic’ of Jane Eyre – as the asylum was not far from the Brontës’ home in Haworth. Also very interesting is the final part of the biography, following Anne and Ann’s travels around Europe and Russia in 1839-40. Anne’s travel diary gives a fascinating description of every stopping point as it was in the mid-19th Century. It also reveals that Anne was impatient with Ann, argued with her frequently, pushed her into travelling further than she wanted, and even flirted with other women in front of her! During the trip, Anne developed a fatal fever. She died in Georgia in 1840, at the age of 49, and Ann dutifully returned her body to be buried in Halifax. What I enjoy most about the biography is this ‘warts and all’ approach to Anne’s life. It doesn’t shy away from Anne’s flaws; as Steidele puts it, “Anne Lister was a beast of a woman” – and all the more interesting for it. She lied to and manipulated her lovers, didn’t have much regard for other people’s feelings, and was a staunch Tory (which counts as a flaw in my book). At the same time, she was a remarkably intelligent and competent businesswoman, extensively well-read, well-travelled, and had a curious scientific mind. Even when you disagree with Anne you can’t help but like her, and you can understand the allure that drew so many women to her. As Anne herself put it in 1816, “the girls liked me & had always liked me”. And we always will like her, I’m sure!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book makes you realise what a huge social snob Miss Lister really was, and also how mercenary. While her lust for life and adventure and determination to live on her own terms was admirable, the fact is that the relationship with Ann Walker was not the love match it is portrayed in the current BBC series. Lister needed money to sink her coal mines, refurbish Shibden Hall and also travel the world. Ann Walker was a pliable pawn who most importantly was wealthy and Lister cynically targeted h This book makes you realise what a huge social snob Miss Lister really was, and also how mercenary. While her lust for life and adventure and determination to live on her own terms was admirable, the fact is that the relationship with Ann Walker was not the love match it is portrayed in the current BBC series. Lister needed money to sink her coal mines, refurbish Shibden Hall and also travel the world. Ann Walker was a pliable pawn who most importantly was wealthy and Lister cynically targeted her for this reason. On one occasion she went to London to meet with High Society friends and refused to introduce them to Ann Walker, which she understandably was very hurt by.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Van Parys

    This was a good read but very dry, even considering all the "scandalous" content of Lister's life. I'm not sure how you could make nonfiction like this not dry when you're dealing with thousands of pages of transcribed tedious journal pages, but still this somehow managed it. A worthy read if you're at all interested in lesbian history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I hesitated between this book and the TV series tie-in, and now am not at all sure whether I should have chosen the latter instead. But I wanted more than the love story between Anne and Ann, because (although I loved the love story in the series) I was also intrigued by Lister's business dealings. I feel a bit like the academic who prudishly consigned Lister's coded sex scenes to oblivion as being "merely personal" and "of no historical interest", i.e. I would have liked less of them--but that's I hesitated between this book and the TV series tie-in, and now am not at all sure whether I should have chosen the latter instead. But I wanted more than the love story between Anne and Ann, because (although I loved the love story in the series) I was also intrigued by Lister's business dealings. I feel a bit like the academic who prudishly consigned Lister's coded sex scenes to oblivion as being "merely personal" and "of no historical interest", i.e. I would have liked less of them--but that's just me. Although I was rather intrigued to learn that Lister, while a supreme middle finger jockey, remained a virgin herself in the technical sense; she clearly thought like a rampantly straight man of the 18th century and did not want to be in a submissive role. Nowadays she would probably realize that she was a man in a woman's body and opt for gender transition. If that sounds too dismissive, I'm sorry--I'm a straight female, if that's any excuse. Anyway, I did get quite a bit of what interested me, which I could sum up as Lister's drive for adventure. That was what it was all about, really--she couldn't bear the domesticity that was her lot as an 18th-century woman. She wanted the life of a man, and not any man--she wanted to be a Romantic hero, a true Don Juan. Which, of course, involved constant romantic intrigue, generally being a shit to women, spending far too much money (often not hers) and traveling far and wide. Her real drive was for experiences, and by damn she got them. But I didn't get enough of what I wanted. The sex kind of overbalances the book, and I think I'm going to have to find a better biography of Anne Lister. This one switches from sex to travelogue with all the really interesting bits around the edges of the main action.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nadin

    Anne Lister was a narcissistic but fascinating person, her life full of polyamorous dyke drama and travels. This biography is also a poetic middle finger (a body part that Anne mentions a lot) to the romanticed tales of female "friendships". (now English edition: "Gentleman Jack")

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachael Eyre

    It's difficult to argue with the author's conclusion that Anne Lister was an egotistical fortune hunter, but her diaries are an invaluable historical document, disproving the homophobic argument that LGBT people are a modern phenomenon. This biography is a quick, informative read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kellie

    Anne Lister was both amazing and a monster. I wish I had half her swagger.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    What a fascinating book about a fascinating life! I could not put my Kindle down this weekend. A little sad because I feel I've read spoilers for tonight's HBO episode, although I'm eager to see the Sally Wainwright version of events! I especially loved the detailed account of Anne and Ann's life & travels together (in Imperial Russia! in the winter!) after their marriage, which the Ann Choma biography skimmed over. It was interesting to learn the history of the decoding process, and the disagree What a fascinating book about a fascinating life! I could not put my Kindle down this weekend. A little sad because I feel I've read spoilers for tonight's HBO episode, although I'm eager to see the Sally Wainwright version of events! I especially loved the detailed account of Anne and Ann's life & travels together (in Imperial Russia! in the winter!) after their marriage, which the Ann Choma biography skimmed over. It was interesting to learn the history of the decoding process, and the disagreements between the researchers about the importance of publishing certain extracts--the arguments Anne/Ann had! I want to see how Anne justifies herself. Luckily I feel that now the HBO/BBC show is such a success, that the decoding/publication process will be sped up! I need a little break from Anne Lister now, but I'll certainly be reading more of her this summer.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steph Pomfrett

    Full disclosure before I start: my grandma is Helena Whitbread, who initially published the diaries in the 1980s. Anne Lister was a fascinating woman, both publicly and privately. She was also a colossal narcissist who would have been a nightmare on social media; instead she had her journal. This book highlights that, although relies incredibly heavily on the transcriptions of Helena and Jill Liddington, with some reference to the notes of Phyllis Ramsden. I was quite frustrated that the author Full disclosure before I start: my grandma is Helena Whitbread, who initially published the diaries in the 1980s. Anne Lister was a fascinating woman, both publicly and privately. She was also a colossal narcissist who would have been a nightmare on social media; instead she had her journal. This book highlights that, although relies incredibly heavily on the transcriptions of Helena and Jill Liddington, with some reference to the notes of Phyllis Ramsden. I was quite frustrated that the author of this book would dismiss parts of the journals as not being transcribed- when they had been (by my grandma and other writers), but not published. It baffles me that, if you were to undertake such an important biography, you would not want to translate yourself. I think this is a good general introduction to Anne. I would have liked more social context that could explain why she was such a monster and why she behaved the way she did, politically. I also found the attempts to shoehorn the Brontës in a bit odd (I do not think- at all- that Wuthering Heights was inspired by Anne and Ann. I also seriously doubt that Charlotte Brontë based the main character in Shirley on Anne, especially as it is generally accepted that she based the character on Emily Brontë. I do acknowledge that the sisters would probably have been aware of her, though.) I'm also mindful of readers brought to this book by the brilliant TV series and how they might be disappointed by how Anne really was. I think it's important that we take the diaries as 'warts and all', without the benefit of a brilliant screenwriter cleaning them up and repackaging them as entertainment. My hope is that, after reading this book, readers go out and read Helena and Jill's books to learn more about the context in which this extraordinary (if somewhat repellent) woman lived.

  20. 5 out of 5

    rosamund

    I read an article about Anne Lister some months ago, and found it very interesting: the bare facts of her life are fascinating. An independent woman, Lister travelled extensively, and managed to take control of her uncle's estates due to her determination and strong business acumen. She was also a lesbian, and had many different female partners over her life, and lived openly with a woman, considering herself to be married. She wrote obsessively in her diary, using a secret code in a mixture of I read an article about Anne Lister some months ago, and found it very interesting: the bare facts of her life are fascinating. An independent woman, Lister travelled extensively, and managed to take control of her uncle's estates due to her determination and strong business acumen. She was also a lesbian, and had many different female partners over her life, and lived openly with a woman, considering herself to be married. She wrote obsessively in her diary, using a secret code in a mixture of English and Ancient Greek to recount her relationships with women. However, the details of Lister's life are not as fascinating as the broad strokes. Her diary, while an important document about queer life in regency England, is not particularly interesting, and her relationships are full of arguments and impetuous decisions that are not compelling to read. A Tory, she spends a lot of time frittering away money and treating her tenants harshly. Undeniably, Lister is an interesting figure in queer history, but I think an article does her justice: she doesn't need a whole biography.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cloudia

    First things first, this is bad history. The author explains in the very first chapter that she deciphered none of Anne Lister's diaries herself and based her book entirely on secondary sources created by other historians. Go read the books by Jill Liddington and Helena Whitbread instead of this, (or better than that you can now access the diaries themselves and many people around the world are deciphering them as we speak so they will be fully digitized in a few years.) They have devoted decades First things first, this is bad history. The author explains in the very first chapter that she deciphered none of Anne Lister's diaries herself and based her book entirely on secondary sources created by other historians. Go read the books by Jill Liddington and Helena Whitbread instead of this, (or better than that you can now access the diaries themselves and many people around the world are deciphering them as we speak so they will be fully digitized in a few years.) They have devoted decades of their life to researching Anne Lister, they understand and respect her as a human being. Ethics are a big thing currently in historical research and this biographer didn't use the best ethics in producing this book. Secondly, Anne Lister herself. Yes she was a Tory and a narcissist, but she was also an exceptionally intelligent woman living in a time of absolute patriarchy. So if you're here from the TV show and are saddened that AL was actually a terrible person; don't despair, go read another book and you'll see how exceptional she was despite her many faults.

  22. 4 out of 5

    The Reader

    Fascinating and informative - although I do think it's a bit of a stretch to suppose that Anne Lister could have been the inspiration for Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Gives an even greater appreciation for the TV series. Love that this biography doesn't gloss over Anne's dickishness and self-absorption; if she wasn't such a narcissist, we wouldn't have had 4 million words of priceless 19th century history at our disposal!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    Terribly dull, read to the page 35. I couldn’t take anymore of the fuckboy attitude and rather nasty way of speaking about her romantic interests. This book is basically an outline of Lister’s life and lovers. The writing has no feeling and is very clinical/basic. One star for the pretty cover.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    This was such a good read!! Anne lister is hugely admirable in one sense, but also a total nightmare. Also a massive Tory.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Mangler

    Anne Lister is fascinating (although not such a great person, it turns out), but this book is rather dull.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Versace

    Don't bother. Depressing. Worst possible depiction of Anne Lister.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Helen Cooley

    Interesting read about a fascinating historic character. Anne Lister was a female (lesbian) ‘Casanova’, born in 1791, who seduced and loved many women and wrote prolifically and often graphically about it in her diaries. As well as her complex love and sex life, which makes for a fascinating piece of LGBT+ history, she also travelled widely across Europe and into Russia in a time when it was extraordinarily adventurous to do so, she also entered into several (rather unsuccessful) business ventur Interesting read about a fascinating historic character. Anne Lister was a female (lesbian) ‘Casanova’, born in 1791, who seduced and loved many women and wrote prolifically and often graphically about it in her diaries. As well as her complex love and sex life, which makes for a fascinating piece of LGBT+ history, she also travelled widely across Europe and into Russia in a time when it was extraordinarily adventurous to do so, she also entered into several (rather unsuccessful) business ventures in a time when women just didn’t get the chance to do that. She lived openly with another woman as her wife and generally gave a big fuck you to the conventions of the day for a woman’s role. Hurrah! However she wasn’t always a very good person - some of her lovers she treated atrociously, and her upper class attitudes towards the poorer classes were decidedly lacking in empathy. But her story held my interest. Her diaries were largely written in code - and when first decoded, various shocked prudish descendants and researchers hid them straight away again due to the sexual content! One disappointment of this biography is that the author is working from someone else’s transcriptions of Anne’s diaries, and after a while the transcriber clearly has had enough and sets out summary notes rather than the full detail, which is a shame as some of the full story must be lost.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    The premise of this book sounded so interesting but the execution fell far short. The author is German so perhaps it lost something in translation. I had never heard of Anne Lister so was even more intrigued by the book. Sadly I couldn't get with it at all. Found it far too repetitive.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ilona Suviranta

    The topic of this book - Anne Lister - got me completely obsessed, as in my eyes there's almost nothing more interesting than queer history. However, despite the fascinating life of its subject, the book itself was dragging at points. A bit of editing would have done this book good.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    DNF Anne Lister is such a fascinating character she should easily make a good biography. Unfortunately I found this dry and the writing style with parts of the original letters thrown in didn't work for me. Thank you to Netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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