Dinah Birch

  • Female Fortune: Land, Gender and Authority. The Anne Lister Diaries and Other Writings 1833-36 edited by Jill Liddington
    Rivers Oram, 298 pp, £30.00, September 1998, ISBN 1 85489 088 3

Anne Lister was undoubtedly one of the most unorthodox women of the early 19th century. She was an active and entirely unashamed lesbian, a scholar, a dauntless traveller and a resourceful businesswoman. As an example of what female tenacity could achieve in the pre-Victorian period, she might be seen as a fortifying ideal. But she was also manipulative and snobbish, often careless of the welfare of her tenants and labourers, and a belligerent ultra-Tory. Not only was she quite without interest in women’s political advancement, she was clearly not at all nice. One of the most engaging features of this selection from her writings is Jill Liddington’s refusal to make either a heroine or a witch out of this resolutely selfish woman. Nor does she allow Lister’s sexuality to dominate her account, as earlier editors have tended to do. Though Lister’s clandestine homosexual marriage with her fellow heiress Ann Walker is the most extraordinary event of the years covered here, its dynastic and economic repercussions figure as prominently as its personal significance in Liddington’s commentary. Nothing can make Anne Lister anything other than sensational, but Liddington is determined to show that she was something more substantial than a sexual curiosity.

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