Revealing Anne Lister: a BBC doc with Sue Perkins

Glorious find: comedienne/conductor Sue Perkins explores the life of Anne Lister, a Regency landowner who left a coded diary recording her sexual encounters and love affairs with “the fairer sex.” She also managed to get married to a woman. In a church. A fantastic documentary with not a trace of Regency-stalgia, with interviews with Amanda Vickery (of Behind Closed Doors fame), Helena Whitbread (who was the first historian ever to manage to publish the notorious diaries in the eighties), Margaret Reynolds, and more.

Run, don’t walk to see this (also because when the Beeb notices, it will act). Part one:

Part two:

Part three:

Part four:

20 thoughts on “Revealing Anne Lister: a BBC doc with Sue Perkins

  1. Yes, full of great lines! It’s really curious, though, because the whole thing is so unlikely that I find it hard to not think of it as sort of a Sarah Waters invention until we get to the [spoiler alert!] “Goes off to Russia, gets bitten by insect, dies” part. Perhaps so much fiction has been created to fill in the historical blanks that when we get to actual no-speculation-necessary historical record it ends up feeling like fiction. (To me, anyway, though having seen the dramatization probably contributes to this.) On the other hand, the whole discussion of teenage girls and boarding school relationships sent up a whole lot of Marian Evans flares — in the early letters there’s a great deal of playing around with gendered modes of address. So.

    Anyway thanks for finding and posting. Will try to watch it again before the Beeb Police arrive.

      1. How was it? His recent interview on the Beeb was pretty funny. But I see there’s been some cocking of eyebrows at his treatment of the subject in question (not the ‘stache, that is, but anti-semitism).

        1. He talked a bit about that too. It sounded absurd: he said L’Osservatore Romano and a prominent rabbi in Rome warned that his novel (in which he set out to create an evil, irredeemable character by making him an anti-Semite) might educate people in anti-Semitism. Then he proceeded to talk about the ‘perverse readings’, and why some expectations of it are reasonable and others baseless.

          At the Q&A session, he in passing re-confirmed his rejection of deconstruction, which (ever the aphorist) he called “the all-too eager American adoption of the French license”. “At one point, the text will say, No. I am not saying that. I am not open to any reading.” Sounded like a stand-up routine, in which he assumed the voice of the text. “No, if I’m Finnegans Wake, I am not about the American Wild West” etc.

          He also said he stopped reading comic books, because they became too sophisticated. “I mean, have you read Batman recently!?”

  2. You are right about Helena Whitbread. Lancashire, possibly Manchester, but cultured with it.

    Amanda Vickery is Northern but disguised (possibly had to lose it for professional reasons?) one has to adapt in UK or great misunderstandings can happen!
    But the give away is Bath with a flat A – definitely nowhere near London.

  3. Interesting and very nice comments above about the Anne Lister documentary. For the record, I was born and bred in Halifax (Yorkshire) – the home town of Anne Lister. Amanda Vickery, I believe is from Preston (Lancashire)

    1. Such a thrill to hear from you! Thank you so much for commenting. This recent Lister renaissance is all due to your work, and I can’t say thank-you enough for that. I saw the BBC film about A.L. at a festival a couple of years ago, and the actress who played AL also talked about your work and how much she depended on it. And I’m sure you know, AL is also the only woman in Alan Bray’s seminal work on pre-legalized forms of the same-sex marriage, The Friend. You created a whole new generation of research.

      When you have some time, please let us know what you’re working on currently or what you plan to work on.

  4. I’ve only just found your kind comments above. I am, at present, working on a full biography of the remarkable Anne Lister. It is, as you can imagine given that she wrote around 4 million words in her journals, in addition to over a thousand letters. a quite intensive and lengthy “work in progress”! Thank you for your interest.

  5. Thanks for the invitation – I would be pleased to write a blog post on Anne Lister travails and adventures now and again.

  6. Anyone who can reach Halifax, West Yorkshire, England may be interested in seeing an entirely free screening of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister with a short talk about Anne Lister’s Life by her biographer Helena Whitbread.

    This takes place on Sunday 14th April 2013 starting at 7.30pm.

    Visit www. for more information and to book seats ( recommended ).

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