Friday, 21 May 2010

Would you read someone else's diary if you came upon it by accident? Hmm ... not sure I believe you! There's something about a secret diary and especially one that was written in code.
Of course, some secret diaries were hardly worth keeping secret.
Ever read Beatrix Potter's diary?... heavens, it's dull!
But I broke the book-buying ban this week to buy an old Virago copy of The Diaries of Anne Lister.
Anne was a lesbian in 19th century Georgian England and, as all through her life she conducted passionate love affairs with other women, her diary had to be written in code.
The love of her life was her friend Mariana who broke Anne's heart by marrying a man for money and status ... if Mariana's husband had discovered their secret affair, there would have been trouble. Then there was Isabella, who dearly loved Anne - only Anne, sadly, disapproved of poor, unhappy 'Tib' who drank a bottle of sherry a day and was inclined to get a bit boisterous.
I kept thinking of Jane Austen's heroines ... a single woman must be in a need of a husband, only in Anne's case she longed for a wife.
The journals are often poignant. You can't help thinking that if Anne had only been born 200 years later, she and Mariana might have had a civil partnership and nobody would have batted an eyelid.
The diaries are also a chronicle of everyday life in 19th century provincial England. When Anne wasn't flirting with other girls, she wrote vividly about food and fashion, and learning to drive a gig, and dinners in hotels and going to the dentist.
Somehow I felt as if I could hear Anne's voice coming down the centuries - though I'm not sure I'd have liked her. She was a dreadful snob. She was so conscious of being landed gentry and she wouldn't have invited me to tea, as I'm in trade!
Anne's code was cracked by the last member of the Lister family who was so shocked by what he read that he hid the diaries behind panelling in the family home in Halifax where they weren't discovered until after his death in the 1930s.
You can still visit the house.


Darlene said...

Oh this does sound intriguing doesn't it! This is just the sort of reading that would keep me awake all hours...I'm not ashamed to admit being a teensy bit nosy!

mary said...

The diaries have been adapted for television, Darlene; I think it's supposed to be on here sometime in the next couple of weeks, but maybe you'll get it on PBS later?