Sunday, August 14, 2022

"I was now sure of the estate": Anne Lister, part 3

Anne Lister by John Horner, ca. 1830s. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall Paintings

A continuation of "It was all nature": Anne Lister, part 2

"I was now sure of the estate": Anne inherits Shibden Hall

On the morning of Thursday 26 January 1826 Anne's uncle James Lister, the owner of Shibden Hall, collapsed on the floor of his bedroom and died.

The Red Room, the master bedroom in Shibden Hall. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall Paintings

Later that day, in the presence of her father, her sister, and her aunt, Anne read his will aloud. It was a remarkable document, because it left James's "real and personal Estates whatsoever and wherever. . .to my Niece Anne Lister. . .absolutely for ever." [1]

The estate was not entailed on any distant male relatives, as was more customary, but belonged solely to Anne (and was hers to bequeath however she wished in turn). This was especially noteworthy because by this time Anne was in her mid-30s, and it was abundantly clear to everyone in the Lister family that Anne would never have a husband or children.

Anne's desire to have a female companion come share her life at Shibden had been announced to her uncle and aunt four years earlier, just before her visit with her aunt to see the Ladies of Llangollen (see "I only love the fairer sex": Anne Lister, part 1 for details of that visit):

Thursday 27 June 1822: Talking, after supper, to my uncle & aunt about M— [Anne's married lover Mariana Lawton]. One thing led to another until I said plainly, in substance, that she would not have married if she or I had had good independent fortunes. . .& that I hoped she would one day be in the Blue Room, that is, live with me. . .My uncle, as usual, said little or nothing, but seemed well enough satisfied. My aunt talked, appearing not at all surprised, saying she always thought it [Mariana's marriage to Charles Lawton] a match of convenience. [2]

James must have realized that bequeathing Shibden Hall and its lands to Anne risked having it, and the economic, social and political power that land ownership produced, leave the Lister family when Anne herself died.

Shibden Hall. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall

On the night following her uncle's death, Anne wrote in her diary,

Thursday 26 January 1826: On coming upstairs to my room to dress, after seeing my poor uncle, looked into my heart & said, 'Lord, I am a sinner. There is not that sorrow there ought to be.' Felt frightened to think I could think, at such a moment, of temporal gains—that I was now sure of the estate. 'Are others,' said I, 'thus wicked?' and knelt down and said my prayers. Oh, the heart is indeed deceitful above all things. He was the best of uncles to me. Oh, that my heart were more right within me. I shed a tear or two when my father & [sister] Marian came & stopt once in reading the will. I am grave and feel anxious to do, & seem, all that is decorous but there is not that deep grief at my heart I think there ought to be. Oh, that I were better.

James Lister by John Horner, ca. 1826. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall Paintings

Although Anne inherited Shibden Hall, there were some conditions. Anne's father Jeremy and her Aunt Anne, James's brother and sister, were both granted the right to live at Shibden for the rest of their lives. This meant that Marian, who lived with her father, would also be a part of the household.

In addition, her aunt and her father were each granted one-third of the rental income from Shibden's tenants, while her aunt also received dividends from shares in the Calder and Hebble Navigation canal. Those shares had appreciated over time and were now worth £6000, so the dividends probably amounted to several hundred pounds a year.

Anne Lister's aunt Anne Lister by Thomas Binns, ca. 1833. Image source: ArtUK

After splitting the rents with her father and aunt, Anne's other sources of income from the estate derived from stone quarrying and coal mining. These were small operations that would not generate a great deal of money. (In a later post I'll talk about the grim working conditions and the use of child labor in coal mining during the 1830s.) In total Anne received about £800 a year. While that was a substantial sum, Anne had expensive plans. She wanted to undertake extensive renovation projects at Shibden, and her sojourn in Paris the previous year had whetted her appetite for foreign travel; she had dreams of visiting Italy and Russia. (For details of her 1824-25 Paris visit and her affair with Maria Barlow, see "It was all nature".)

Reunion with Mariana

In mid-March 1826 Mariana Lawton arrived at Shibden Hall. The tensions between Mariana and her husband had reached a breaking point, and Mariana was apparently hoping that Anne would invite her to separate from Charles and stay with her permanently at Shibden.

Sunday 12 March 1826: 'Tis plain enough she would leave Charles for half a word but I will not give it. She must weather it out. I am attached to her & have no thought but of being constant—but she must wait. I like not the idea of having another man's wife.

Maria Barlow might contest Anne's assertion that she had "no thought but of being constant" to Mariana Lawton. Nonetheless, Anne's reunion with Mariana was a happy one, and as always their sexual connection remained strong:

Thursday 16 March 1826: Went to Mariana four times, the last time just before getting up. She had eight kisses and I counted ten. Charles worse tempered than ever. . .I urged her going [back], at least for a time. My uncle's death was so recent it would look as if she took this opportunity of parting from him to come to me. She was for [separating from Charles and] going back to her own family. I objected to this. Charles might not live long & then all would be right.

Mariana soon travelled on towards York and beyond to see her family and friends, where she got no more support than she had from Anne for the idea of separating from her husband. (Neither Mariana's father, whose household included three unmarried daughters, nor her brother Stephen, who had a family of his own, were eager to support Mariana if she left her husband.) 

At the end of April Mariana came back through Halifax and stopped at Shibden. She was on her way back to Lawton Hall in Cheshire to reconcile with Charles, but was clearly in no hurry and wound up staying with Anne for a month. On the first Sunday in May the two women took communion together, a ritual which seems to have had special significance for Anne:

Sunday 7 May 1826: We went to the old church. Got there just after the service had begun. . .Mariana & I staid the sacrament—the first time we ever received it together in our lives.

Anne would later participate in the same communion ritual with Ann Walker.

Charles Lawton seemed as concerned with maintaining appearances as Anne did. This led to a series of short trips and visits involving Anne, her aunt, Mariana, and Charles, where the respectability of Anne and Mariana's relationship could be publicly affirmed by the presence of Mariana's husband. In private, Charles' jealousy and suspicion of Anne had apparently subsided into acceptance, or at least complaisance.

Saturday 17 June 1826 [Royal Hotel, Chester]: All quite at our ease. . .Charles retired at 10. My room next to theirs & Mariana & I came in in 5 or ten minutes. She undressed in my room. So did I, quite, & in half an hour we had been in bed, had two or three kisses & Mariana was gone to Charles.

Sunday 18 June 1826 [Mrs Briscoe's Hotel, Parkgate]: . . .room next to Mariana & Charles' and their's so hot Charles glad to have it to himself & Mariana slept in mine.

Tuesday 11 July 1826 [Waterloo Hotel, Liverpool]: Charles seemed inclined to let Mariana sleep with me. However, she went to him after she got into bed to me for a few minutes & given me a tolerable kiss. We heard him snoring all the while [in the room next door]. Mariana dresses in my room, which gives us opportunity.

Waterloo Hotel, Liverpool, late 1800s. Image source: Liverpool History Society

Thursday 13 July 1826 [Mona, Wales]: Charles. . .hardly spoke & left Mariana & me & we sat up twenty minutes & then went to bed, Mariana sleeping with me.

It seems unlikely that Charles can have been entirely unaware of why his wife was spending so much time in Anne's room.

Return to Paris

In August 1826 Anne, her aunt, and Mariana (without Charles) left on a trip to Paris. Callously, Anne had asked Maria Barlow, with whom she had had a passionate affair in Paris two years earlier, to make lodging arrangements for the travelling party.

Saturday 2 September: Off for Paris [from Versailles] at 5. . .We had got into the Rue di Rivoli when Mariana saw a little figure in white dart out of the Hôtel de Terrasse (No. 50) & call out to the post boys to stop. Said Mariana, 'Mrs Barlow.' There was [her 15-year-old daughter] Jane, too. Mrs Barlow pale as death. I felt a little less so. Jumped out of the carriage. Met her. . .she had taken us a rez de chausée [ground floor room] for my aunt and lodging rooms à la entresol du premier [on the first-floor mezzanine] for us at the Hôtel de Terrasse.

No. 50 Rue di Rivoli today. Image source: Google Maps

. . .I walked home with her [Mrs Barlow was still living in the apartment she had rented the previous year with Anne at No. 15 Quai Voltaire, on the Left Bank of the Seine across from the Louvre] & went upstairs to her salon for a few minutes. In crossing the Tuileries gardens, mentioned Mariana's being with us. Mrs Barlow agitated. Said I had behaved dishonestly not to tell her before.

As well she might, having been asked to make arrangements unknowingly for the person she considered to be her rival for Anne's affections. But Anne was no less unthinkingly cruel to Mariana:

Monday 4 September 1826: I had suddenly said, when dinner was half over,. . .'Perhaps I might go to Mrs Barlow,' & this had spoiled poor Mariana's appetite—but she would have me do whatever seemed best. I said I had said it suddenly, without thought, & it would not do. Should think of it no more.

Mariana stayed with Anne in Paris for a month. There was another awkward moment when Anne and Mariana met Mrs. Barlow and Jane unexpectedly in the street:

Tuesday 3 October 1826: At 1-50, went to the top of the column in the Place Vendôme. . .Beautiful view of Paris. . .In returning from the column to the Rue St Honoré, met Mrs Barlow & Jane. Stopt to speak and shake hands. Mrs Barlow's lips trembled. Mariana set wrong & nervous by the meeting but all behaved very well.

The Place Vendôme by Henry Parke, 1820. Image source: Sir John Soane's Museum

Mrs. Barlow must have seen that the women were coming from the Place Vendôme; the pension at No. 24 Place Vendôme, of course, was where Anne and Mrs. Barlow had met and begun their affair.

On Saturday 7 October Anne and Mariana left Aunt Anne in Paris and travelled to Boulogne to meet Charles. He arrived on the 12th and the next day he and Mariana left for England. Anne returned to Paris, and to Mrs. Barlow, with whom she lost no time in renewing her affair. 

In 1827 Anne, Mrs. Barlow and her daughter took a months-long trip to Switzerland and northern Italy while Aunt Anne remained in Paris. But if Maria Barlow hoped the sojourn would result in Anne finally committing to her, it had the opposite effect. By the end of the trip Anne was convinced that Mrs. Barlow was not the life companion she sought. 

Back in Paris Anne soon met a beautiful young widow, Madame de Rosny, who was a part of the aristocratic set surrounding the French king, Charles X. (Anne had been in Paris when Charles X succeeded to the throne on the death of his older brother Louis XVIII in September 1824; after a short and unhappy reign, he would be deposed during the events of the July Revolution in 1830.) Anne and Madame de Rosny embarked on a sexual affair, intense enough that Anne left the apartment she shared with her aunt and moved in (as a lodger) with Madame de Rosny. Although Anne was not presented at court, attending social events with the curdled cream of the French aristocracy was a heady experience.

Anne had clearly moved on from Mrs. Barlow, but she was not above continuing to exploit her feelings. In March 1828 Anne returned to England to visit Mariana, whom she hadn't seen for almost 18 months, leaving her aunt in Paris under Mrs. Barlow's care. But the reunion with Mariana was not a success. The contrast with the graceful, fashionable, socially connected and younger Madame de Rosny was too great:

Sunday 23 March 1828 [Lawton Hall]: . . .I had been so long absent from Mariana I did not know what to do with her. She looked tall and big. She seemed to have grown taller. I felt awkward & said to myself, 'Why, what have I to do with having such a woman?'

True to Anne's usual form, though, the slow death of her relationship with Mariana would drag on for years. In 1830 she would travel to Europe with her again, and as late as June 1833 while travelling with Mariana to London, Anne recorded a sexual encounter (possibly their last). But Anne was now fixed on finding a wealthy younger woman who might elevate her social status and enhance her financial means.

Next time: Vere Hobart and Ann Walker.

Last time: "It was all nature": Anne Lister, part 2

Sources for and works discussed in this series:

I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, [1816–1824,] Helena Whitbread, ed. Virago, 1988/2010 (as The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister), 422 pgs.

No Priest But Love: Excerpts from the Diaries of Anne Lister, 1824–1826, Helena Whitbread, ed. NYU Press, 1992, 227 pgs.

Jill Liddington, Presenting the Past: Anne Lister of Halifax 1791–1840, Pennine Pens, 1994, 76 pgs.

Female Fortune: Land, Gender and Authority: The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings, 1833–1836, Jill Liddington, ed. Rivers Oram Press, 1998, 298 pgs.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, written by Jane English, directed by James Kent, starring Maxine Peake as Anne Lister, BBC, 2010, 92 mins.

Gentleman Jack, written and directed by Sally Wainwright and others, starring Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, BBC, 2019–2022, 16 episodes, 950 mins.

Anne Choma, Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister, Penguin, 2019, 258 pgs.


  1. Jill Liddington, editor, Female Fortune, p. 21. Many of the details of James Lister's will and Anne's financial situation are drawn from this source.
  2. Quotes from Anne Lister's diary taken from Helena Whitbread, editor, I Know My Own Heart/The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister and No Priest But Love. As in the other installments in this series, diary entries in roman type represent Anne Lister's "plain hand," while those in italics represent her "crypt hand"—the sections written in code.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

"It was all nature": Anne Lister, part 2

Anne Lister by John Horner, ca. 1830s. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall Paintings

A continuation of "I only love the fairer sex": Anne Lister, part 1.

Paris and Mrs. Barlow

Anne Lister had first travelled to Paris with her aunt for five weeks in May and June 1819. In 1824 she resolved to return for a longer stay, one in which she would be fully independent.

She also wanted to consult French doctors about the venereal disease she had contracted from her married lover Mariana Lawton (née Belcombe). Although their sexual connection continued whenever they had the opportunity ("She knows how to heighten the pleasure of our intercourse. . .All her kisses are good ones"—Thursday 22 July 1824), and Anne still considered herself engaged, she was no longer as emotionally committed as she once had been. [1]

On Tuesday 24 August 1824, Anne left Shibden Hall accompanied only by her maid Elizabeth Cordingley. After a brief stopover in London they arrived in Paris eight days later, on Wednesday 1 September. Anne had arranged to stay at the pension of Madame de Boyve in the Place Vendôme in the First Arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Tuileries Gardens.

The Place Vendôme by Henry Parke, 1820. Anne Lister stayed at 24 Place Vendôme, the building in the left foreground. Image source: Sir John Soane's Museum

One of her fellow guests at the pension was the 37-year-old widow of a British army officer, Mrs. Maria Barlow, who was staying there with her 13-year-old daughter Jane. Anne's first impression was far from positive.

Monday 20 September 1824: Mrs Barlow. . .is vain & swallows all the flattery I give her readily. I hardly know what to make of her—whether she is rather puff & cheat or simply a foolish, silly little woman. . .I begin to rather flirt with her but I think she has no consciousness of it, or why she begins to like [me].

However, after a series of evening parties at the pension and visits to one another's rooms, Anne's flirtation grew more overt, and began involving hand-holding, knee-stroking, and kissing. In one conversation Mrs. Barlow hinted about Marie Antoinette, accused of "being too fond of women" (Thursday 14 October). She seems to have come to a quick understanding of the nature of Anne's interest in her, but continued to allow her small but significant liberties.

Sunday 7 November 1824: Came upstairs at 10:50 with Mrs Barlow. Stopt a few minutes talking to her in her anteroom. Kissed her in a little dark passage as we came out of the dining room. She lets me kiss her now very quietly & sits with her feet close to mine.

A night at the opera

On Tuesday 9 November Anne and Mrs. Barlow joined party of other guests from the pension attending a performance at the Théâtre-Italien. The mezzo-soprano Giuditta Pasta was appearing in one of her signature roles, that of title character in Giovanni Paisiello's 1790 opera Nina, o sia La pazza per amore (in her diary Anne called it "Nina Mad for Love," but perhaps a more accurate translation would be "Nina, the girl driven mad by love").

Madame Giuditta Pasta in the stage costume of Nina. Image source: Brera Pinacoteca

After returning from the opera that night Anne wrote,

[Madame Pasta] was certainly very great. Her voice & singing very fine; she, very graceful. Mme Galvani some time ago said she was decidedly a very much better singer than Catalani.

Aside: Angelica Catalani and the Yorkshire Music Festival

Anne had seen Angelica Catalani sing at the first Yorkshire Music Festival in September 1823. The concerts primarily featured the music of Handel, and were held as a benefit for the hospitals in York, Leeds, Hull and Sheffield. "Morning concerts" (starting at noon) of sacred music were held in York Minster; evening concerts, primarily of opera arias and popular songs, took place at the Great Assembly Rooms.

Madame Angelica Catalani by Rolinda Sharples, ca. 1821. Image source: Art UK

Although nearing the end of her career, the 43-year-old Catalani was still perhaps the world's leading soprano. In a contemporary account of the Yorkshire Music Festival John Crosse wrote,

Endowed with the most extraordinary natural gifts, the image of resistless power and overwhelming magnificence, the first notes of Madame Catalani’s voice can never be forgotten by those who have heard it burst upon the astonished ear. With this voice,—extending in its most perfect state from G to F in altissimo, full, rich, and grand in its quality beyond previous conception, capable of being attenuated, or expanded into a volume of sound that pierced the loudest chorus,—she has borne down by force the barriers of criticism, and commanded the admiration of Europe. [2]

The criticism referred to by Crosse related to the perception that Catalani relied on her dazzling technique rather than attempting to express emotional meaning. But for many dazzling technique was more than sufficient. A later 19th-century writer commented,

It is not a marvel that the public was captivated with Catalani. She had every splendid gift that Nature could lavish—surpassing physical beauty, a matchless voice, energy of spirit, sweetness of temper, and warm affections. Her whole private life was marked by the utmost purity and propriety, and she was the soul of generosity and unselfishness. [3]

Not so filled with generosity and unselfishness, however, that her husband and manager Paul Valabrèque didn't demand the highest salary yet paid to a festival performer for her appearance at the Yorkshire Music Festival, despite its charitable purpose: 600 guineas, triple the fee of the next-best-paid singer, Eliza Salmon. Although Catalani's fee was high, it was certainly justified by the thousands of tickets to the festival that were sold.

Of the morning concert on Tuesday 23 September Anne wrote, "The Minster very full. . .400 performers formed an excellent orchestra [of 180 musicians and chorus of 273 singers], the stands so arranged as to make the whole thing have a very fine effect opposite the gallery. Madame Catalani seemed tired & not well & her singing, tho' wonderful, did not quite equal my expectations." (According to the Music Festival Database, Catalani sang "Gloria in excelsis Deo" by Pietro Guglielmi.) In the evening concert, "Madame Catalani sang beautifully, particularly [Thomas Arne's] 'Rule, Brittania.'"

The next day the morning concert was Handel's Messiah in Mozart's arrangement. "Isabella [Norcliffe], Charlotte [Norcliffe], the 3 Daltons [probably Esther, Isabella, and their mother Maria] and I went at 10, just before the doors opened. A desperate crowd. Pushed thro' with difficulty & by dint of perseverance & management, got into the nave, the 5th bench from the orchestra. . .Our seats were excellent—much better than yesterday. The music & singing capital. The Messiah. Madame Catalani sang 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' better than 'Comfort ye.'" 

It was highly unusual for a soprano to sing Messiah's opening recitative "Comfort ye, my people," and the following aria, "Ev'ry valley shall be exalted"; they were both traditionally sung by tenors. Catalani had threatened to withdraw from the festival if she were not allowed to sing them, transposed up an octave and down a step from E major to D major. [4]

Wednesday 24 September 1824: ". . .The 'Hallelujah Chorus' exceptionally fine. . .About 5000 people in the Minster." View of York Minster during the Yorkshire Music Festival, 1823.
Published by John Wolstenholme, engraved by Edward Finden. Image source: Forum Auctions

On Thursday 25 September, "after tremendous crowding & pushing, we all got well in. . .partly on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd benches from the orchestra. We fancied ourselves rather too near, but perhaps we were not. Catalani sang with rather more spirit this morning & much better. . .Miss Travis, Mrs. Salmon, and Madame Catalani were each encored. . ." According to the Music Festival Database Catalani sang arias by Cianchettini ("Domine labia mea") and from Handel's Theodora ("Oh worse than death indeed. . .Angels ever bright and fair").

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnmxokJjIoo

In the recording above Lorraine Hunt is the soloist, accompanied by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan.

Anne also saw Catalani at the evening concert Thursday night, though she did not comment on her performance specifically. At that performance Catalani sang  another transposition: "Non piu andrai," Figaro's aria from Act I of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, transposed into the soprano range from its original bass-baritone range. It was one of her most famous concert pieces.

At the morning concert the following day, which brought the festival to a close, Anne reported that "Catalani sang 'Luther's Hymn' and was encored." According to the Music Festival Database Catalani also sang Guglielmi's "Gratias, agimus tibi," "Sing ye to the Lord" from Handel's Israel in Egypt, and Cianchettini's "Benedictus."

Anne actually met Angelica Catalani in person. Madame Catalani had accepted an invitation to dine with the Belcombes on Sunday 28 September. Anne had stopped by at 4:50 pm that day to say goodbye to her lover Mariana and the other members of the family (she was returning to Langton Hall near Malton with the Norcliffes), when Madame Catalani arrived unexpectedly:

Madame Catalani went to dine there at 5 instead of 6, & nobody being ready, I staid & had a little tête-à-tête till Mrs Belcombe came & then M— and [Mariana's sister] Mrs [Harriet] Milne. Madame Catalani is certainly a very handsome, elegantly mannered & fascinating woman. I stammered on in French very tolerably.

Meeting the star of the festival clearly left an impression on Anne.

Giuditta Pasta and Nina

A year later in Paris, Anne had her first experience of Giuditta Pasta's singing. In his Life of Rossini (1824) Stendhal wrote of Pasta, "this remarkably rich voice. . .exercises an instantaneous and hypnotic effect upon the soul of the spectator." Pasta was also acclaimed for her acting. In 1826 a reviewer in The Harmonicon stated, "It is all nature. . .She does not act the character—she is it, looks it, breathes it. She does not study for an effect, but strives to possess herself of the feeling which would dictate what she is to do." [5] This is perhaps why Anne's French tutor Madame Galvani rated Pasta the better singer than Catalani; clearly a concern with naturalistic acting on the opera stage did not originate in the late 20th century.

Nina's Act I aria "Il mio ben quando verrà" (When my beloved comes), in which she mourns her absent lover, whom everyone else believes is dead:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdA_MLil2Gg

The singer in this recording is Teresa Berganza accompanied by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson.

In her entry about seeing the opera at the Théâtre-Italien Anne wrote,

M. Dacier paying attention to Mlle de Sans, to which she shews no dislike, & I to Mrs. Barlow. Under our shawls, had my arm round her waist great part of the time. Felt a little excited by the music, etc., & she surely knew it full well. I think she felt something herself. Had my arm round her waist, too, as we returned.

The next morning Anne apologized to Mrs. Barlow for her forward behavior and unguarded speech:

Wednesday 10 November 1824: Said how ill I had behaved last night. The opera had set me all wrong & I would go no more.

Perhaps the figure of Nina, driven mad by the loss of her lover, had "set [Anne] all wrong" by reminding her of her enforced separation from Mariana.

Having patched things up with Mrs. Barlow, Anne now redoubled her efforts to seduce her. These sections make for uncomfortable reading, as Anne takes every opportunity to attempt to grope Mrs. Barlow against both her stated wishes and her physical resistance.

Sunday 14 November 1824: From little to more. [I] became rather excited. . .Tried to put my hand up her petticoat but she prevented. Touched her flesh above the knee twice. I kissed her warmly & held her strongly. She said what a state I was getting myself into. She got up to go away & went to the door. I followed. Finding that she lingered a moment, pressed her closely & again tried to put my hand up her petticoats. Finding that she would not let me do this but still that she was a little excited, I became regularly so myself. I felt her grow warm & she let me grubble [rub] & press her tightly with my left hand whilst I held her against the door with the other, all the while putting my tongue in her mouth & kissing her so passionately as to excite her not a little, I am sure. When it was over she put her handkerchief to her eyes &, shedding a few tears, said, 'You are used to these things. I am not.'. . .She blamed herself, saying she was a poor, weak creature. I conjured her not to blame herself. It was all my fault. I loved her with all my heart and would do anything for her. Asked her if she loved me a little bit. 'You know I do,' said she. I still therefore pressed her to let me in tomorrow before she was up, when Mrs Page [Mrs Barlow's servant] was gone with Miss Barlow to school. She would not promise. Asked me what I would do. I said teach her to love me better. Insinuated we had now gone too far to retract & she might as well admit me.

Despite Anne's actions bringing her to tears, Mrs. Barlow continued to allow Anne to visit her in her room, and also came to visit her, both mornings and evenings.

Eliza Raine

Anne attempted to justify her behavior by suggesting to Mrs. Barlow that her sexual attraction to other women was something that she had experienced from a young age, and that it was "all nature":

Saturday 13 November 1824: [In 1805 at age 14] went to the Manor school [in York] & became attached to Eliza Raine. Said how it was all nature. Had it not been genuine the thing would have been different.

Eliza Raine was the daughter of William Raine, an East India Company surgeon; Jill Liddington suggests that her mother was Indian. William Raine had died in 1800, and Eliza had accompanied Raine's surgeon colleague William Duffin and his wife when they left India to return to York. She was sent to the Manor School, a boarding school for the daughters of well-to-do Yorkshire families, where she and Anne shared a bedroom and became lovers. Although Anne left the boarding school after a year and returned to her parents' home, she continued to visit and correspond with Eliza over the next eight years. In fact, the code which Anne used in her diary was developed so that she and Eliza could write secretly to each other, and she may have begun to keep her diary to record Eliza's visits and letters. [6]

In August 1810 Eliza was visiting the 19-year-old Anne and her family, then living in Halifax. Although there are gaps in Anne's diary around this time period, Jill Liddington discovered that Eliza Raine's diary has somehow survived among the Shibden Hall papers (and also uses the same code):

Thursday 9 August 1810: I dined at Mrs J[eremy] Lister's & heard an account of the amiable I[sabella] N[orcliffe]

Through Eliza, Anne had met the Duffins, and through them, their friends the Norcliffes. In 1810 Anne became lovers with the Norcliffe's eldest daughter Isabella, then 25, which may have been what occasioned the series of arguments that Eliza records during this visit:

Tuesday 14 August 1810: Dear L & I had a reconciliation. . .

Thursday 16 August 1810: . . .L & I had a difference which happily was made up before the conclusion of the day but left me e[x]ceedingly ill

Friday 17 August 1810: . . .my husband came to me & finally a happy reunion was accomplished.

Eliza may have regretted introducing Anne to the Norcliffes, as Isabella regretted introducing Anne in 1812 to the five Belcombe sisters. Anne's passionate interest soon became focussed on Mariana Belcombe, who was just a year older than Anne. By 1814 they had become lovers, and Mariana had displaced both Eliza and Isabella in Anne's plans to set up a household with a life companion. Anne's open flirtations and sexual infidelities with other women caused Eliza intense emotional distress.

Anne was remarkably open about her relationship with Eliza when discussing it a decade later with Mrs. Barlow in Paris:

Saturday 13 November 1824: . . .I told her, when speaking of Eliza, we had once agreed to go off together when of age but my conduct first delayed it & then circumstances luckily put an end to it all together.

"Luckily" because in 1814 Eliza was declared insane, and spent the rest of her life under the observation of attendants (for four decades in the asylum of Dr. William Belcombe, Mariana's father, later taken over by Mariana's brother Stephen). It's not clear to what extent suspicions of Eliza's sexuality figured in her diagnosis, but women who were considered sexually disordered, emotionally unstable, or simply inconvenient could be diagnosed with "hysteria" or "lunacy" and confined.

Mistress versus wife

Early in Anne's acquaintance with Mrs. Barlow she learned of her limited means: "Her widow's pension, she told me yesterday, is eighty pounds a year & government pays her, besides this, two hundred & fifty pounds per year" (Monday 20 September 1824). Mrs. Barlow had a few other sources of income, including the rent from a house on Guernsey; altogether she could count on around £400 per year. Although this was ten times the income of a skilled worker, it was only just sufficient to maintain a middle-class woman and her daughter in comfort and respectability.

Anne feared that one reason for Mrs. Barlow's interest in her was her wealth. But despite her suspicions, in her attempt to seduce Mrs. Barlow Anne brought all of her weapons to bear:

Wednesday 17 November 1824: Told Mrs Barlow this morning I thought I should have two thousand a year [i.e., when she came into her inheritance; currently Anne was still largely dependent on her uncle.] Asked how she could live on that—if it should be enough to keep her a carriage & satisfy her not to marry. She gave no very decided answer. Said the mode of living must depend on myself. But 'tis evident enough she would not refuse to try. We sat on the bed a little tonight. She said she was tired. I kept her feelings constantly excited & this tired her.

By degrees Anne won Mrs. Barlow over:

Wednesday 22 December 1824: Very soon after she came [into Anne's room], she lay on the bed. . .She got in and I had my arms round her. . .she let me grubble her over her petticoats. . .after being quiet a while, she half-sighed and said, 'Oh, I think I could do anything for you.'

The next month the two women moved out of the pension and into a Left Bank apartment at 15 Quai Voltaire, on the riverfront "looking on the Louvre gardens" (26 December). But the freedom of greater privacy did not always bring them greater intimacy. Mrs. Barlow complained to Anne that she felt more like a mistress than a wife, while from Anne's perspective, Mrs. Barlow had neither the fortune she hoped for nor the demeanor she preferred in a life companion. And Mrs. Barlow made the fatal error of attempting to reciprocate Anne's sexual attentions:

Saturday 19 March 1825: A strong excitement last night just after getting into bed. She said again this morning it was the best she had ever had. Had a very good one an hour before we got up, slumbering all the while afterwards. In getting out of bed, she suddenly touching my queer, I started back. . .'I can give you relief. I must do to you as you do to me.' I liked not this & said she astonished me. She asked if I was angry. No, merely astonished. However, I found I could not easily make her understand my feeling on the subject. . .This is womanizing me too much.

Anne, perhaps wishing to bring her relationship with Mrs. Barlow to an end, had made plans to return to England at the end of March.

Thursday 31 March 1825: She clung round me at the last & when I wanted to go, saying staying did no good, 'Oh, no,' said she, 'stay till the last minute.'. . .She sobbed convulsively & as I went out of one door she hurried out of that into her own room. . .[in the carriage] I thought over my whole acquaintance with Mrs Barlow. I was sorry to leave her but yet, somehow my sorrow was not so deep as I expected. I felt no inclination to shed another tear about her. . .She does not satisfy me in several little things & the connection would be [financially] imprudent. Besides, she lets me see too much that she considers me too much as a woman. . .I fear this is the worst scrape I have been in. How I have deceived her & myself, too. . .

Anne was eager to try to revive her plans to live with Mariana—which would founder on the inescapable fact of her marriage to a man who stubbornly refused to die. And Anne's "scrapes" rarely ended with clean breaks; she would discover that she could not free herself of Mrs. Barlow quite so easily.

Next time: The Mariana saga continues.

Last time:  "I only love the fairer sex": Anne Lister, part 1

Sources for and works discussed in this series:

I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, [1816–1824,] Helena Whitbread, ed. Virago, 1988/2010 (as The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister), 422 pgs.

No Priest But Love: Excerpts from the Diaries of Anne Lister, 1824–1826, Helena Whitbread, ed. NYU Press, 1992, 227 pgs.

Jill Liddington, Presenting the Past: Anne Lister of Halifax 1791–1840, Pennine Pens, 1994, 76 pgs.

Female Fortune: Land, Gender and Authority: The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings, 1833–1836, Jill Liddington, ed. Rivers Oram Press, 1998, 298 pgs.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, written by Jane English, directed by James Kent, starring Maxine Peake as Anne Lister, BBC, 2010, 92 mins.

Gentleman Jack, written and directed by Sally Wainwright and others, starring Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, BBC, 2019–2022, 16 episodes, 950 mins.

Anne Choma, Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister, Penguin, 2019, 258 pgs.


  1. Quotes from Anne Lister's diary before 1 September 1824 are from I Know My Own Heart; quotes from 1 September 1824 and after are from No Priest But Love. Italicized sections were originally written in Anne's personal code, while sections in roman type were unencoded. After 1 September 1824 I am guessing at which sections were coded, as No Priest But Love does not indicate the coded sections and prints all excerpts from the diaries in roman type.
  2. Quoted in Charles Edward McGuire, "John Bull, Angelica Catalani and Middle-Class Taste at the 1820s British Musical Festival," Nineteenth-Century Music Review, Vol. 11 (2014), pp. 3-31. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/S1479409814000135
  3. Quoted in McGuire. 
  4. Information from McGuire.
  5. Quoted in Susan Rutherford, "'La cantante delle passioni': Giuditta Pasta and the Idea of Operatic Performance," Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2 (July 2007), pp. 107-138. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27607154
  6. Jill Liddington, Presenting the Past, pp. 26-30; source of all quotes from Eliza Raine's diary.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

"I only love the fairer sex": Anne Lister, part 1

Anne Lister by John Horner, ca. 1830s. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall Paintings

The coded diaries

In 1815 the 24-year-old Anne Lister came to live with her bachelor uncle James and his sister at Shibden Hall near Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Anne's brother John had died of illness in 1810 and her last surviving brother Sam had drowned in 1813, and so it was decided that Anne would inherit the ancient family manor on James's death (which occurred in 1826).

James Lister by John Horner, ca. 1826. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall Paintings

Anne quickly became known among the local population for her "oddities": an unmarried woman, she assumed the male prerogatives of wearing practical shoes and outdoor wear, riding, shooting, driving a gig, mountain climbing, and directing workmen on the estate. But the true extent of Anne's unconventionality was revealed decades after her death when one of her relatives looked into the many volumes of her diary at Shibden Hall.

Shibden Hall, Halifax. The library tower at the left was added by Anne Lister in the 1830s. Image source: Calderdale Museums: Shibden Hall

Anne had begun keeping the diary at age 15 while at boarding school, and continued for the rest of her life; by the time of her death in 1840 at age 49, she had filled 27 volumes, producing a total of 6600 manuscript pages and four million words. (For comparison's sake, four million words is roughly the combined length of Charles Dickens' 15 novels, and is nearly three times longer than the diary of Samuel Pepys.)

After finding the diaries hidden behind an oak panel in the late 1880s, her relative John Lister noticed that many entries were written partly or completely in code. Adding to the difficulty of deciphering the code, the "crypt hand" sections contained no word breaks or punctuation. Lister asked a friend, Arthur Burrell, for help, and ultimately the two men were able to unlock the coded sections. What they read shocked them deeply. Burrell described the coded entries as "an intimate account of homosexual practices among Miss Lister and her many 'friends'; hardly one of them escaped her." [1]

Burrell recommended that John Lister burn the diaries immediately. Lister demurred, but placed the diaries back behind the oak panel. They were discovered there after his death in 1933, when Shibden Hall became the property of the Halifax Town Council. Burrell reluctantly supplied the town's head librarian, Edward Green, with the key to the code; Green locked it away in his safe.

Half a century later, scholar and Halifax native Helena Whitbread was looking for a new local research project and visited the town library to view Anne Lister's correspondence. While assisting her with the microfilm viewer, an archivist asked an offhand question: "Did you know she kept a journal?"

Fateful words. Her curiosity sparked by the coded passages, Whitbread painstakingly deciphered Anne's journals using a copy of Burrell and Lister's key.

Mon. 29 [January 1821]: I love, & only love, the fairer sex & thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs. Image source: Ann Lister Diary Archives

In 1988 Whitbread published the pioneering I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister (Virago), a volume of extracts covering the years 1816 to 1824 that was the first time that decoded sections of the diary were made available. In 1992 Whitbread published a second volume, No Priest But Love: Excerpts from the Diaries of Anne Lister, 1824–1826 (New York University Press).

What Whitbread found was that the plain hand sections of the diary recorded aspects of Anne's daily life: her social visits (and how long they lasted), her attendance at church (and the exact length of the sermon), trips to the stationers or the circulating library, expenses. The crypt hand sections offer her frank assessments of her acquaintances ("vulgar" is a word that recurs frequently), thoughts or conversations on sensitive matters, and the material that shocked John Lister and Arthur Burrell: accounts of her flirtations and details of her sexual liaisons. The diary extracts above and that follow are drawn from Whitbread's books, and follow the convention she established in I Know My Own Heart of rendering the plain hand sections in roman type and the decoded crypt hand sections in italics.

M— and C—

When I Know My Own Heart opens in August 1816, Anne is accompanying the newlyweds Mariana (or Marianna) and Charles Lawton on their honeymoon, along with Mariana's unmarried older sister. The practice of having female friends and relatives of the bride stay with her during the first months of marriage to help her settle into married life is surprising enough to modern sensibilities. What made this situation particularly fraught was that for several years Anne and Mariana had been lovers. But Mariana sought financial security and social respectability, and thought she had found both in marriage to the much older Charles Lawton (Mariana was in her mid-20s, like Anne, while her husband was in his mid-40s).

Buxton Crescent, where the Lawton honeymoon party stayed during their visit, 1804. Engraved by Birrel from a drawing by E. Dayes. Image source: Rare Old Prints

Travelling with the couple on their honeymoon, Anne was faced with daily reminders of what she considered her betrayal by Mariana. Racked by hurt and jealousy, Anne made a play for her travelling companion, Mariana's unmarried older sister Anne Belcombe.  Her seduction of Anne seems highly likely to have been a displacement of her feelings for Mariana:

Wednesday 14 August 1816 [at the Midlands spa town of Buxton on honeymoon with Mariana and Charles]: Anne sat by my bedside & lay by me upon the bed till 3 in the morning — I teasing and behaving rather amorously to her. She would gladly have got into bed or done anything of the loving kind I asked her.

Thursday 15 August 1816: Anne sat by my bedside till 2. I talked about the feeling to which she gave rise. Lamented my fate. Said I should never marry. Could not like men. Ought not to like women. At the same time apologizing for my inclination that way. By diverse arguments made out a pitiful story altogether & roused poor Anne's sympathy to tears.

Wednesday 21 August 1816 [at the house of Anne Belcombe and Mariana Lawton's brother Stephen in Newcastle-under-Lyme]: All but connected with Anne.

"Connected" was one of Anne Lister's terms for sex. But before they had an opportunity to take that next step, the two women returned to their respective homes. In early November Anne Belcombe, travelling back to York from another visit with Mariana and Charles at Lawton Hall near Manchester, stopped at Shibden Hall. She wound up staying for three weeks:

Saturday 9 November 1816: Talking to Anne all the morning telling [her] she should either be on or off, that she was acting very unfairly & ought either to make up her mind to let me have a kiss at once or change her manners altogether. I said she excited my feelings in a way that was very unjustifiable unless she meant to gratify them. . .

It's interesting to see this argument, used countless times by countless men to coerce hesitant women into sex, being employed by a woman to importune another woman.

Monday 11 November 1816: Had a very good kiss last night. Anne gave it me with pleasure, not thinking it necessary to refuse me any longer.

In the diaries a "kiss" is sometimes just a kiss, but often (as in the entry above) clearly a reference to sex. This may have been the 31-year-old Anne Belcombe's first sexual experience, and apparently she soon began to feel guilty:

Wednesday 13 November 1816: She asked if I thought the thing was wrong. . .I urged in my own defence the strength of natural feeling & instinct, for so I might call it, as I had always had the same turn from infancy. That it had been known to me, as it were, by inclination. That I had never varied & no effort on my part been able to counteract it. That the girls liked me & had always liked me. That I had never been refused by anyone & that, without attempting to account for the thing, I hoped it might under such circumstances be excused.

Anne Lister's Aunt Anne (there are three Annes in the house at this point) may have become suspicious of the nature of the relationship between her niece and her visitor; in any case, she began "fretting about the length of [Anne Belcombe's] stay."

Anne Lister's aunt Anne Lister by Thomas Binns, ca. 1833. Image source: ArtUK

Anne Belcombe finally returned to her parents' home in York at the end of November, putting an end to the liaison. [2] 

Anne Lister later "owned [to Mariana] that, tho' I had never given any of the hair of my own queer [i.e., her pubic hair] to any one, yet I had asked for & received it from others. I had some among my curiousities now. She would know whose. Guessed everybody she could. At last guessed Mrs. Milne [Mariana's sister Harriet] & my blushing or looking conscious made her suspect. I saw she felt hurt & hastened to contradict. I had blushed at the thought of her guessing so nearly, for it was her sister Anne to whom I had alluded & last night I said that Anne had made up to me & that we had gone far in flirting, tho' Marianna thinks not how far" (Monday 12 September 1825).

After Anne Belcombe's departure, Anne Lister's thoughts turned again to Mariana, designated as M— in the diaries, and her hopes for them to make a life together. In early 1817 Charles Lawton (C— in the diaries) found a letter from Anne to Mariana in which it was clear that the women were biding their time until Charles died, at which point Mariana would go to live with Anne. In the event Charles would outlive Anne by two decades, dying in 1860 at the ripe old age of 89. But after learning that Anne and his wife were waiting (and perhaps hoping) for him to die, he began intercepting Anne's letters.

Charles' distrust made it more difficult, but not impossible, for the women to make occasional arrangements to meet. In December 1817 Mariana was visiting her family in York to have some teeth extracted, and Anne contrived to be invited by her York friend Mary Jane Marsh to visit at the same time.

Friday 12 December 1817: Breakfasted at the Belcombes'. . .a little before 11, [M—] herself suggested our having a kiss. I thought it dangerous & would have declined the risk but she persisted & by way of excuse to bolt the door sent me downstairs for some paper, that she was going to the close-stool. The expedient answered & she tried to laugh me out of my nervousness. I took off my pelisse & drawers, and got into bed & had a very good kiss, she showing all due inclination & in less than seven minutes the door was unbolted and we were all right again.

But despite making arrangements to see Mariana whenever possible, Anne was growing dissatisfied with their occasional furtive meetings and their limited ability to exchange letters:

Friday 11 July 1817: As I was getting into bed I began thinking how little confidence I had in M— & how little likely it was that we should ever get together. I was very low. I felt that my happiness depended on having some female companion whom I could love & depend on & my thoughts naturally turned to Isabella.

Isabella Norcliffe, to her own regret, had introduced Anne to Mariana Belcombe in 1812. Before the introduction Anne and Isabella had been lovers; afterwards Anne's passionate affections became focussed instead on Mariana. Anne and Mariana became lovers in 1814, and Anne thought that they would be together for the rest of their lives. But after Mariana's marriage Anne began to reconsider Isabella as a potential companion.

The women began to exchange extended visits, Anne travelling to the Norcliffe family seat of Langton Hall near Malton, northeast of York, and Isabella returning the visit at Shibden Hall.

Langton Hall, near Malton, Yorkshire. Image source: Geograph

But the visits were not always a success: Isabella ("Tib") liked her port, had a loud voice and boisterous manner, used snuff, and was "too fond" with Anne in front of others, as Anne recorded during one of Isabella's visits:

Saturday 16 September 1820: My aunt seemed still incredulous. I wonder if she smokes [suspects] Tib? Surely she has not nous [understanding] enough, tho' Tib is, indeed, shockingly barefaced. I must manage things better in future.

Although their sexual liaisons would continue for many years more—"A kiss last night of Tib. Perhaps I may never have another" (Tuesday 14 February 1826)—Anne soon came to realize that Isabella could not take the place of Mariana in her emotions or plans.

Thursday 8 February 1821: Came upstairs at 11 a.m. Spent my time from then till 3 writing M— very affectionately, more so than I remember to have done for long. . .Wrote the following crypt, 'I can live upon hope, forget that we grow older, & love you as warmly as ever. Yes, Mary, you cannot doubt the love of one who has waited for you so long & patiently. . ."One shall our union & our interests be" & every wish that love inspires & every kiss & every dear feeling of delight shall only make me more securely and entirely yours.' Then, after hoping to see her in York next winter & at [M—'s brother] Steph's before the end of the summer, I further wrote in crypt as follows, 'I do not like to be too long estranged from you sometimes, for, Mary, there is a nameless tie in that soft intercourse which blends us into one & makes me feel that you are mine. There is no feeling like it. There is no pledge which gives such sweet possession.'

The "complaint"

In the summer of 1821 both Anne and Mariana were invited to the Newcastle-under-Lyme home of Mariana's brother Stephen Belcombe and his wife to stand as sponsors for the christening of their baby daughter. It was the couple's first meeting in over a year, and they renewed their commitment to one another. But Anne noticed something troubling:

Monday 23 July 1821: Went to M— but somehow didn't manage a good kiss. Refused to promise till I had really felt that she was my wife. Went to her a second time. Succeeded better & then bound ourselves to each other by an irrevocable promise for ever, in pledge of which, turned on her finger the gold ring I gave her several years ago & also her wedding ring which had not been moved off her finger since her marriage. She seems devoted to me & I can & shall trust her now. . .It has occurred to me: can C— have given her a venereal disease?

Anne soon began to experience symptoms herself, and approached Stephen, a doctor:

Saturday 4 August 1821: A few minutes' conversation with Steph before breakfast. Mention M— & my suspicion of venereal. He said he was treating her as for this. . .Said I knew someone in the same situation. A young married woman, poor, who had tried much advice without relief & therefore asked Steph for the prescription he gave M—. . .the heat & itching I felt last night have been considerable today & I am persuaded of being touched with the complaint.

Whitbread suspects that the "complaint" was trichomoniasis, an infection which today can be cured with antibiotics. In the 19th century the commonly prescribed treatments were either ineffectual or actively harmful (e.g., topical and internal application of mercury compounds such as calomel). Anne would later pass the disease on to Isabella Norcliffe.

The Ladies of Llangollen

Miss Sarah Ponsonby (left) and Lady Eleanor Butler, "The Ladies of Llangollen," by Richard James Lane after a drawing "carefully taken from life" by Lady Mary Leighton ca. 1820s. Image source: National Portrait Gallery, London

In the summer of 1822 Anne was planning a two-week tour of Wales with her aunt. Anne had a reason other than the scenery for visiting: she asked her friend Isabella Dalton if she knew anyone who could give her an introduction to Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, the Ladies of Llangollen.

Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby were Irish cousins. More than four decades earlier, on the night of Monday 30 March 1778, they had fled their homes to be together:

Late that night, when the family [of her guardian Sir William Fownes] was in bed, Sarah, dressed in men's clothes, armed with a pistol and carrying her small dog, Frisk, made her way silently downstairs, as silently pushed up the sash of the parlour window, and, climbing over the sill, dropped to the ground. Outside she was met by the trusted labourer who straight-way guided her to the barn where Eleanor Butler was waiting for her.

Earlier that night at about ten, and just as the [Butler] family were going into supper, Eleanor had crept out of the [Kilkenny] Castle. Once outside she too had changed into men's clothes, and, on a horse either begged or borrowed, had ridden off to their prearranged rendezvous. Their goal was Waterford twenty-three miles off and a boat for England. [3]

The two women rode on Butler's horse through rain and wind toward the coast. When daylight came they hid themselves in a barn, and then continued their journey after night fell. Recaptured on Wednesday evening near Waterford, where they had been hoping to secure passage to England, the two women were forcibly separated.

By the time of their attempted escape Eleanor and Sarah had known one another for almost a decade. By 1778 both were under increasing pressure from their families. Eleanor, then in her late 30s, remained unmarried, and to save money on her upkeep her family wanted to send her back to the French convent where she had been educated two decades before. Sarah, then in her early 20s, had been subjected to unwanted sexual overtures from her married guardian. Together Eleanor and Sarah had planned to flee to England and live together in a rural cottage.

After the couple's recapture, the scheme to send Eleanor to the convent of the English Benedictines in Cambrai was put into motion. A few days before Eleanor's departure she was granted a brief final meeting with Sarah. They used the time well.

On the night of Sunday 19 April Eleanor slipped undiscovered out of the relative's house where she'd been held against her will and walked 12 miles in the dark to Sarah's home, Woodstock Hall. There, with the aid of Mary Caryll, a sympathetic servant willing to risk her position to help them, Sarah secretly brought Eleanor into the house through a window and up to her room. There Eleanor stayed undetected for several days (Caryll smuggling in food for her) until her presence was betrayed by another servant.

A psychological and emotional siege of the couple began, but after nearly two weeks it was the families and their allies who were worn down. Eventually they agreed to let the women leave together and to provide them with a small allowance. [4] Early on the morning of Monday 4 May the couple, along with Mary Caryll, entered the Butler family carriage and were driven away to Waterford. The delayed English packet finally departed on Friday, and on Saturday 10 May they disembarked at Hakin in western Wales. After exploring the region, they ultimately settled in a small cottage which they called "Plas Newydd" (New Place) in Llangollen in northeast Wales, about 60 miles southwest of Manchester.

By 1822 the Ladies had been living "in retirement" at Plas Newydd since 1780, and had become famous. [5] They were visited by many leading literary, scientific and political figures of the day. For Anne, the Ladies were a model of the sort of life she had hoped to lead with Mariana.

On arriving in Llangollen Anne had heard that the Ladies were indisposed, and sent a note to Plas Newydd expressing her regret and asking to view the grounds.

Sunday 14 July 1822: I quite agree with M—. . .the place is 'a beautiful little bijou', shewing excellent taste—much to the credit of the ladies who have done it entirely themselves. . .It is an interesting place. My expectations were more than realized & it excited in me, for a variety of circumstances, a sort of peculiar interest tinged with melancholy. I could have mused for hours, dreampt dreams of happiness, conjured up many a vision of. . .hope.

On their way homeward at the end of their tour, Anne and her aunt stopped again in Llangollen. Through their innkeeper Anne sent an inquiry to Plas Newydd about the Ladies' health.

Tuesday 23 July 1822: I am interested about these 2 ladies very much. There is something in their story & in all I have heard about them here that, added to other circumstances, makes a deep impression. Sat musing on the sopha, wotting what to do, inconsolate & moody, thinking of M—. Low about her.

She soon received word that Miss Ponsonby would see her in the early evening after dinner. Anne spent about 40 minutes in her company.

At 7 went to Plasnewydd. . .Shewn into the room next the library, the breakfast room, waited a minute or 2, & then came Miss Ponsonby. A large woman so as to waddle in walking, but, tho', not taller than myself. In a blue, shortish-waisted cloth habit, the jacket unbuttoned shewing a plain plaited frilled habit shirt—a thick white cravat rather loosely put on—hair powdered, parted, I think, down the middle in front, cut a moderate length all around & hanging straight, tolerably thick. The remains of a very fine face. . .Altogether a very odd figure. Yet she had no sooner entered into conversation than I forgot all this & my attention was wholly taken by her manners & conversation. The former, perfectly easy, peculiarly attentive & well, & bespeaking a person accustomed to a great deal of good society. Mild & gentle, certainly not masculine, and yet there was a je-ne-sai-quoi striking. Her conversation shewing a personal acquaintance with most of the literary characters of the day & their works. . .She asked if I would walk out. Shewed me the kitchen garden. Walked round the shrubbery with me. She said she owned to their having been 42 years there. . .I envied their place & the happiness they had had there. Asked if, dared say, they had never quarrelled. 'No!' They had never had a quarrel. Little differences of opinion sometimes. Life could not go on without it. . .At parting, shook hands with her and she gave me a rose. I said I should keep it for the sake of the place where it grew. . .I know not how it is, I felt low after coming away. A thousand moody reflections occurred. . .

Back home, Anne received a letter from Mariana:

Saturday 3 August: [M—] seems much interested about Lady Eleanor & Miss Ponsonby. . .'You have at once excited & gratified my curiosity. Tell me if you think their regard has always been platonic & if you ever believed pure friendship could be so exalted. If you do, I shall think there are brighter amongst mortals than I ever believed there were.'. . .I cannot help thinking that surely it was not platonic. Heaven forgive me, but I look within myself & doubt. I feel the infirmity of our nature & hesitate to pronounce such attachments uncemented by something more tender still than friendship. But much, or all, depends upon the story of their former lives, the period passed before they lived together, that feverish dream called youth.

"I cannot cease to remember": The "3 steps" and Scarborough incidents

In the late summer of 1823 two incidents created an emotional breach between Anne and Mariana that would never fully heal. The first was when Anne walked three hours from Halifax to Blackstone Edge, a distance of 10 miles, to meet Mariana's carriage on the road from Manchester. Anne's sudden, disheveled appearance in "a wildish place" had startled the dozing Mariana, and Anne's eager enthusiasm in front of Mariana's sister Louisa (Mariana at first thought Anne had vaulted three steps in leaping into the carriage) grated on Mariana's nerves. That night Anne wrote that Mariana's cold reception "had fallen like some huge iceberg on my breast" (Tuesday 19 August 1823). The next day Anne wrote in her diary about Mariana's reaction:

Wednesday 20 August 1823: She had a feeling she could not describe. Would make any sacrifice rather than have our connection suspected. . .Mary, you have passion like the rest, but. . .your courage is weak rather than your principal strong.

The next month Anne joined Mariana in Scarborough, a fashionable coastal resort in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Scarborough, Yorkshire. Drawn & engraved by William Daniell, 1822. Image source: Tate Britain

Anne stood out among the crowds of finely dressed women, to Mariana's dismay:

Tuesday 16 September 1823: We touched on the subject of my figure [appearance]. The people staring so on Sunday had then made her feel quite low. . .'Yet,' said I, 'taking me altogether, would you have me changed?' 'Yes,' said she. 'To give you a feminine figure.'. . .She had just before observed that I was getting mustaches & that when she first saw this it made her sick.

Wednesday 17 September 1823: She said I did not know her feeling; the objection, the horror she had to anything unnatural. I shewed her I understood her & then observed upon my conduct & feelings being surely natural to me inasmuch as they were not taught, not fictitious [learned from novels], but instinctive. Said from my heart, I could make any sacrifice for her, tho' she could not for me. I could have braved anything. Yes, I have often felt I could have rushed on ruin. She said it was lucky for us both her feelings were cooler. They tempered mine. . .My feelings now began to overpower me. I thought of the devotion with which I had loved her, & of all I had suffered. I contrasted these with all the little deceits she had put upon me & with those cooler feelings with which she thought it so lucky to have tempered mine. I thought of these things and my heart was almost agonized to bursting.

A month later Anne was still turning it all over in her mind:

Wednesday 15 October 1823: This Blackstone Edge and Scarbro' business so clings to my memory I can't shake it off. . .I agreed with [M—] when she said she would give anything to efface these last three months. Alas, they have altered me. How they have revolutionized my feelings of love & confidence towards her.

Thursday 16 October 1823: For the life of me I cannot forget &, what is worse, I cannot cease to remember.

The two women would reunite both before and after Anne's pivotal trip to Paris the following year, and recommit to one another. But ultimately, despite the "irrevocable promise for ever," Anne would tire of waiting for Charles to die and would begin to look elsewhere for a life companion.

Next time: Paris and Maria Barlow

Sources for and works discussed in this series:

I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, [1816–1824,] Helena Whitbread, ed. Virago, 1988/2010 (with a new introduction, as The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister), 422 pgs.

No Priest But Love: Excerpts from the Diaries of Anne Lister, 1824–1826, Helena Whitbread, ed. NYU Press, 1992, 227 pgs.

Jill Liddington, Presenting the Past: Anne Lister of Halifax 1791–1840, Pennine Pens, 1994,  76 pgs.

Female Fortune: Land, Gender and Authority: The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings, 1833–1836, Jill Liddington, ed. Rivers Oram Press, 1998, 298 pgs.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, written by Jane English, directed by James Kent, starring Maxine Peake as Anne Lister, BBC, 2010, 92 mins.

Gentleman Jack, written and directed by Sally Wainwright and others, starring Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, BBC, 2019–2022, 16 episodes, 950 mins.

Anne Choma, Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister, Penguin, 2019, 258 pgs.


  1. I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, p. xiv.
  2. At least temporarily; it apparently resumed during an end-of-year visit to the Norcliffe family in Malton and the Belcombe family in York between early October 1820 and early January 1821: ". . .I easily persuaded her to sleep with me" (8 January 1821).
  3. Elizabeth Mavor, The Ladies of Llangollen: A Study in Romantic Friendship, Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 38. Emma Donoghue has criticized "romantic friendship" as a characterization of the Ladies' lifelong emotional commitment; she writes that Mavor employs the term "specifically to shield the Ladies of Llangollen from being called lesbians." See Donoghue's Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668–1801, HarperCollins, 1995, p. 109.
  4. Lady Eleanor was given about £200 annually by her family, while Sarah was provided with £80 annually by Mrs. Tighe, the daughter of her stepmother Lady Betty Fownes. Lady Betty apparently sympathized with the couple; she left Sarah £1000 in her will (both she and her husband died just a few weeks later) but Lady Betty's brother withheld it, saying that it had been bequeathed "from a mistaken kindness." See Mavor, The Ladies of Llangollen, p. 55.
  5. Mary Caryll had remained their devoted servant at Llangollen, and had died in 1809. On their deaths in 1829 (Eleanor) and 1831 (Sarah) they were buried together next to Mary under a single headstone in the Llangollen churchyard.

Friday, July 22, 2022

E&I's 15th anniversary: 10 favorite posts from the past 5 years

Eve (Barbara Stanwyck) tempts Charles (Henry Fonda) in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve, from one of my favorite posts from the past 5 years. Image source: Hollywood Soapbox

This post is the 511th published on Exotic and Irrational Entertainment, and marks E&I's 15th anniversary (the very first post, on Jonathan Lethem's The Disappointment Artist, John Ford's The Searchers, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, was published on July 22, 2007).

E&I began as a way for me to explore my "indefensible obsessions": literature, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries, and especially by women authors; opera, primarily from the 17th and 18th centuries; and Indian movies, primarily those produced by the mainstream commercial Hindi film industry known as Bollywood. Although in the five years since my 10th anniversary post I've lost touch with current developments in Indian cinema, my other obsessions have certainly continued unabated (and have been joined by a few others).

So in honor of the 15th anniversary of E&I, here is a list of 10 of my favorite posts (or post series) from the past 5 years:

Books:

Angela Carter: A post on Edmund Gordon's biography The Invention of Angela Carter, plus four posts devoted to the best of her fiction, including the evocative The Magic Toyshop and the uncanny tales of The Bloody Chamber. (September–October 2018)
Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel: Du Maurier's fiction has always been popular, but has long been viewed with unwarranted condescension by many literary critics. My Cousin Rachel (like "The Birds" and Rebecca) is another of her masterpieces of growing dread and inexorable fate. Margaret Forster's groundbreaking biography of Du Maurier, the first to reveal the extent of Daphne's same-sex attractions, was one of my favorite books of 2021. (April 2021, October 2021)
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis: The 19th-century Brazilian author, the grandson of slaves, is amazingly modern in his subjects and style. I wrote posts on recent translations of his brilliant Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, in which a dead man looks back on his inconsequential life with ironic humor, and on his wistful final masterwork, Counselor Ayres' Memorial, in which an older man observes a young widow's struggles to remain in mourning as she is inexorably drawn back to life and love. (March 2018 and July 2020)
Margaret Oliphant, Miss Marjoribanks: Victorian novelist Margaret Oliphant is not as well-known today as her contemporaries Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot, but she can be equally acute about the strategies that determined, ambitious women in her era had to pursue in order to achieve their aims. In Miss Marjoribanks, the title character (pronounced "Marchbanks") wants to transform the moribund society of the town of Carlingford and inject some youth and life; her matchmaking is so successful that she almost runs out of eligible bachelors for herself. (August 2020)

Opera:

The mysteries of Dido and Aeneas: The greatest opera in English, Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, is surrounded by mysteries. We don't have all the music: the scores that exist are incomplete copies that don't agree with one another, made for performances that occurred decades after Purcell's death in 1695. We don't know the date of the first performance, or who sang which roles: there is only a single surviving copy of Nahum Tate's libretto from the first (or at least a very early) performance "by young gentlewomen" at a Chelsea boarding-school. In this post I discuss new evidence that has emerged in the last 15 years or so that may enable us to provide at least partial answers to some of the major questions that remain about this opera. (March 2018)
Vittoria Tesi: The first Black prima donna: Vittoria Tesi, the first Black or biracial prima donna, is an extraordinary and ground-breaking figure. She was a star singer who performed on equal terms with other superlative singers of the mid-18th century. And yet I've been listening to Baroque opera for nearly 30 years and can't recall having heard her name before. This post series attempted to bring together all the documented information about Tesi, including some amazing descriptions and images of extravagant Baroque opera spectacles in which she participated. I included arias from the roles she peformed, and identified (for the first time, to my knowledge) a possible image of her father as a young servant in the Medici household. (March–May 2022)
The operas of Antonio Salieri: In the play and film Amadeus, the composer Antonio Salieri is portrayed as "the patron saint of mediocrity," so envious of Mozart's talent that he finally poisons him. One of the many problems with this image is that during Mozart's lifetime Salieri was by far the more successful composer, and Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte drew inspiration from Salieri's work in creating their own. In my post on Salieri's La grotta di Trofonio (The cave of Trofonio) I show that it influenced Mozart's Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte (All women are the same), while in the post on Salieri's La scuola de' gelosi (The school of jealousy) I show that it helped shape Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) as well as Così. The third Salieri opera that I've written about, the one-act Prima la musica, poi le parole (First the music, then the words), was actually a joint production with Mozart, who wrote his own one-act opera, Der Schauspieldirektor (The impresario) to be performed the same evening. In my post on La scuola I wrote, "Salieri may not have been Mozart, but being Salieri was more than sufficient." (December 2018, March 2021, July 2021)

Film:

René Clair: Between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s, years spanning the transition between silent and sound films, French director René Clair directed a series of now-classic comedies. Entr'acte (1924) and The Italian Straw Hat (1927) exploit the visual possibilities of film to tell a series of running jokes. In Sous les toits des Paris (Under the roofs of Paris, 1930), the protagonist is a sheet-music peddler whose code of class loyalty leads to a prison term for a crime he didn't commit. Clair's visual inventiveness and working-class sympathies perhaps reached their highest expression in the gentle humor and humanistic ideals of À nous la liberté! (Give us freedom!, 1931), in which an escaped prisoner becomes a wealthy industrial magnate, only to be reminded of his principles by an encounter with his former cellmate. (September–December 2017)
Ester Krumbachová: A survey of three films written and designed by Krumbachová, a central figure in the Czech New Wave cinema of the 1960s: the surreally feminist Daisies (1966), the bitterly funny and morally chilling A Report on the Party and Guests (1967), and the dreamlike Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970). A few years after the 1968 Soviet invasion ended the Prague Spring, Krumbachová was blacklisted for a decade, but these films remain as a testament to the courage and creativity of Krumbachová and her colleagues. (November 2018)
Preston Sturges: Between 1940 and 1944 seven comedies written and directed by Preston Sturges were released by Paramount Studios. There's not a dud among them, and some are among the best comedies ever produced in Hollywood. In my view Sturges' peak achievement is The Lady Eve (1941), with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, but others might vote for Sullivan's Travels (1942), with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, or the rueful Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), with Eddie Bracken and Ella Raines. (May 2021)

Over the past decade and a half this blog has received (to my astonishment) 657,000 page views. This is a particularly gratifying surprise given that my average post is probably close to two thousand words long, and some far exceed that total. My deepest thanks to everyone who has stopped by E&I since 2007 to read my thoughts and share their own. While I can't guarantee that I'll be continuing for another 15 years, I have no plans to stop writing anytime soon. Take that as fair warning!