Anne Lister book reviews

Female Fortune: Land, Gender & Authority: the Anne Lister Diaries 1833-36, Rivers Oram Press 1998.

'Many will find the private story the most intriguing aspect of this book. What is most extraordinary of all is how private it was. During the 1830s the lesbian lovers, defying all conventions, lived openly at Shibden. Theirs was a studied and deliberate dynastic marriage, for Ann Walker, always a poor thing beside her mannish, bold and totally confident partner, was a neighbouring heiress, and each made a will granting the other a life interest in their estate…. These pages present lesbian sex at its most passionate and vivid.
But Jill Liddington is far too good a historian to sensationalize her subject… Her final reflections are thoughtful, balanced and sensitive. The nine pages of her "Afterword" are indeed brilliant. Standing back from her extraordinary subject, she reflects. As a capitalist [Anne Lister] was cruel, as a landowner she was a bully, as a "husband" she was calculating… Yet Liddington is surely right to argue that she has to be judged by the standards of her time…

As Liddington acutely puts it, Anne Lister's identity was defined in the eyes of others by class, land-ownership, dynasty and education, not by a sexuality [whose name] had not yet been invented.

This is a triumphant piece of scholarship'.

Anthony Fletcher, History Today, October 1999.


'Liddington's consummate skill as a writer and historian makes this book a compelling read from beginning to end…. The achievement of this beautifully produced book is manifestly apparent'.

Pam Sharpe, Labour History Review, spring 2000.


'Fawcett-prizewinning feminist historian Jill Liddington's latest  book…makes essential and enthralling reading.'

Emma Donoghue, Gay Community News, Dec/Jan 1998-99.


Because of the rarity of information about lesbian relationships in the period it's tempting to focus only on Anne's "marriage", but Jill Liddington's excellent introduction rightly points out that we should see this in the context of her other achievements in pushing the boundaries of a woman's role…

Congratulations…to Jill Liddington for her long labour in near-impenetrable archives to bring out this latest volume.'

Ben Page, Independent on Sunday, 6 Sept 1998.


'Anne Lister was…an active and entirely unashamed lesbian, a scholar, a dauntless traveller & a resourceful businesswoman…. She was also manipulative & snobbish, often careless of the welfare of her tenants and labourers, and a belligerent ultra-Tory… 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 in 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 but sensational, but Liddington is determined to show that she was something more substantial than a sexual curiosity…

Liddington has selected a fragment of Anne Lister's legacy… The diaries disclose an unusual degree of self-consciousness together with an unrelenting need for control. Her day-to-day life was hardly solitary. Yet she was lonely, and she knew it… Her sexual liaisons, even the 'marriage' with Ann Walker, failed to provide real companionship. So she talked to herself. It is odd, now, to read these layered meditations alongside Liddington's editorial comments, as she selects and directs our route through the journal entries. A strange polyphony of voices emerges ~ scholarly and liberal notes from Liddington, a formal and explicatory narrative from Lister's un-coded writing, and a frank subtext from the coded interjections.'

Dinah Birch, London Review of Books, 21 Jan 1999.


'Jill Liddington's book admirably captures this difficult, arrogant, self-willed woman in her own unvarnished words… The picture of Halifax in early nineteenth century is meticulously researched in all its class-ridden, claustrophobic detail and it is not hard to see why Anne Lister ~ headstrong but above all true to herself ~ determined to go her own way'.

Issy Shannon, Hebden Bridge Times, 25 Sept 1998.