July 21, 2020
by Lewis Brennen
Writing Anne Lister: The Real Gentleman Jack was the title of the 2020 Southampton Stonewall Lecture, held at Avenue Campus in February as the key event to mark the university’s LGBTQ History Month.
Facing an audience of over 120, Dr Jill Liddington from the University of Leeds spoke vividly on a subject on which she is a rare expert, having deciphered and published large sections of the secret diaries of Anne Lister. Sometimes called the ‘first British lesbian’, Anne Lister (1791-1840) was a true Renaissance woman: Yorkshire landowner, coal mine exploiter, mountaineer, scientist, polyglot, European traveller, trained in the classics as well as being a high Anglican and staunch Tory. Her colourful exploits have now been shared with many through the BBC drama series Gentleman Jack. In her lecture Dr Liddington explained the complex task of deciphering the diaries – long passages in code alongside impenetrable handwriting – and their subsequent history and significance for queer heritage. While the diaries were suppressed for 150 years, deemed too shocking for the public gaze, an extra blow came with the Thatcher government’s Clause 28 since this had the effect of silencing publicity about Anne Lister’s homosexuality. In the past year however a tourist industry has erupted around the Lister home in Halifax, and Dr Liddington has a full-time schedule of talks as well as leading the ‘Lister walks’ in Yorkshire.
The Stonewall lecture was chaired by Professor Mark Cornwall, who has organized it since 2012. Over £100 was raised for the Stonewall charity and Dr Liddington afterwards signed copies of her two transcribed diaries, Female Fortune and Nature’s Domain.