Anne Lister’s Diaries and the Gentleman Jack Series

The series Gentleman Jack, by HBO Max, is more of a biopic. That’s right, it’s a true story. Anne Lister, was a woman who was extremely daring for her time. The series title even refers to the name that the neighbors referred to her, always dressed in black and as a man, in the 19th century. “Jack” was the “dyke” of the time and “gentleman” to reinforce. Everything they could ridicule and inhibit by the rules of the time.

But Anne didn’t care, much. Defined as the premier “modern lesbian”, she detailed her openly homosexual life in codes belatedly deciphered in her diaries. The code, which was a combination of Greek, symbols, and math, detailed his life was nearly destroyed by one of her descendants. Luckily and for lack of knowledge, he kept the documents that were “deciphered” in 1982.

Anne, as we see in the series, was from a family of small landowners in Shibden, in Calderdale, in Yorkshire, and had handled several homosexual affairs since her school days, often on long trips abroad. Calculated masculine, always in black, she was nicknamed “Gentleman Jack” and her last, and most significant relationship was with Ann Walker, whom she married at Holy Trinity Church in York, as shown in season 1 of the series. Based on the diaries, which reveal much about contemporary life in West Yorkshire, including the development of the historic Shibden Hall and its interests in landscaping, mining, railways, and canals, the graphic portrayals of lesbianism were so outspoken that they were considered a hoax until its authenticity was confirmed.

Lived by the very heterosexual Suranne Jones, better known as Dr.Foster, from the BBC, Anne was educated abroad and her homosexuality was discovered and embraced while at boarding schools. She only returned to Yorkshire after becoming direct heir to a substantial amount of money, which included farm leases, shares in the canal and rail industries, mining, and quarrying. His crush was Shibden Hall, which he renovated as soon as he could.

Unashamed of her choices, Anne was openly masculine, causing shame even to Mariana Lawton, one of two mistresses, who was initially embarrassed to be seen in public with Lister because of the comments made about Anne’s appearance. The series shows both but focuses more on the relationship with Ann Walker. The two women were a source of great curiosity and Anne noted in her diary, for eternity, that “people who come look at us as if we were some strange animals, such as they had not seen before”.

It is uncertain how far the series will go, but Anne died suddenly, aged 49, of a fever while traveling with Ann. His companion brought in Ann Lister’s body the following year to bury it in Halifax Minster. His headstone was rediscovered in 2000, having been covered by a floor in 1879.

The prejudice against the couple was immense. Anne, who was already misunderstood by friends and relatives, was declared “mentally ill” because of her sexual orientation. She died in 1854 at her childhood home, Cliff Hill. The dispute between heirs again mentions the relationship between the two even 40 years later.

Anne’s diaries were deciphered in time and became the 26 volumes of her life. In addition to her handwriting being incredibly difficult to decipher, she created a combination of the Greek alphabet, zodiac, punctuation, and mathematical symbols to record her secrets and her everyday life. The records are now considered a valuable, honest and comprehensive account of the time “on lesbian life and reflections on its nature”.

The HBO series, which premiered in 2019, is inspired by books about Anne Lister, written by Jill Liddington. As a symbol of LGBTQ+, her trajectory of confidence and courage is important to share. It is, above all, a love story that deserves to be retold and immortalized.

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