During our trip to England this spring, we stayed in York, for a week and saw many wonderful historic sites and learned so much. I had bought a few books in York the last time we had visited. One of the books was called Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister by Anne Choma. It was a great read! I love books, stories and movies based on true events.
Just a little history, Anne Lister lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s in Shibden in West Yorkshire and has been credited with being the first woman to live an openly lesbian lifestyle. It’s incredible to think that she managed to do this back in those days! She She inherited a small estate in Shibden and was a minor landowner, which was also rare during that time. She dressed in all black, in mens’ clothing, including a tall hat and there are several recorded comments about her masculinity. Because of the way she dressed and carried herself, and her sometimes gruff man, she became known locally as Gentleman Jack.
Anne Lister knew she was lesbian from an early age, even though that word hadn’t been invented yet. She kept a diary of her life as a minor landowner, and the challenges of daily life, but she also kept a detailed diary of her romances. Knowing that her love life was something society did not approve of, she and one of her early lovers, created their own language and communicated using this written language! It was comprised of symbols from the Greek alphabet, the zodiac and math symbols. She was fairly explicit in describing some of her encounters with women, as she searched for a life partner. She knew she wanted to be in a marriage with one loving woman.
Anne Lister’s diaries continued until her death and were contained in 26 volumes as well as letters and scraps of paper. During her lifetime, she wrote more than five million words! Interestingly, she did eventually find a woman who stayed with her – she had made relationships over the years, some lasting for years. Ann Walker and Anne Lister wanted to seal their commitment to one another and took communion together on Easter Sunday in 1834, at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York. This they considered their vows and ceremony and considered themselves wed. The church is considered by some to be the first place in Britain a lesbian couple was married, and it is interesting to note that a blue plaque has been installed outside the church, on the garden wall, commemorating this historic event.
After reading the book, I was intrigued by this bit of fascinating but obscure history. I wanted to see Shibden, as there is a museum there, but we didn’t have time. I also wanted to go to this church and see the plaque. I did some research and found the church in York. If anyone is interested, I could write more about Anne Lister, and how her diaries got deciphered and almost got destroyed! That’s an interesting part of the story as well.
I really enjoyed this book, and there are a few movies and now a new TV series you might want to check out.