Moving between worlds : gender, class, politics, sexuality and women's networks in the diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire, 1830-1840
This dissertation comprises an analysis of the interconnections of gender, politics, class, sexuality and female networks as these operated within the recorded life of Anne Lister (1791-1840), a 'masculine' and lesbian member of the minor landed gentry in the West Riding of Yorkshire. A scholar, traveller and businesswoman, Lister left an enormous, approximately four million-word journal, part of which was written in a crypt of her own devising. While other studies have focused on the production of discourses and their effect in creating passively-inscribed identities, this work will focus on Lister's reception of discourses, her active manipulation of these, and her creation of an identity based partly upon class, partly upon gender, and partly upon her sexual practice. Thus, it represents a major revision of at least one of Foucault's basic premises. Few studies have analyzed the role of women in the gentry to this extent. Lister managed a landed estate in an industrializing area. Estate business included coal-mining, quarrying, mill-building, and investments in roads and canals. A staunch Tory Anglican, she felt that her property gave her the right to dictate the votes of her tenants, and this became more possible following the Reform Act of 1832. Over the course of her life Lister had a number of affairs with women in the gentry and aristocracy, but during the period focused upon here, 1830-1840, Lister had settled into a lesbian marriage with another local heiress, Ann Walker. The gendered power dynamics of their relationship are explored, as are the languages Lister uses to record sexual practice. Lister maintained an extensive correspondence with women in the gentry and aristocracy up to the time of her death. These networks operated both as systems of support and systems of constraint. After her death, the property arrangements she had made with her partner caused difficulties for both families. Property laws recognized only heterosexual transmission, upon which the landed gentry depended for its survival. The Lister journals represent the earliest and most detailed personal evidence of upper-class lesbian lives known to Western historians. The wealth of detail available in matters of gender, class, politics and women's networks is also unprecedented. The journals are thus a vital source in women's history. They simultaneously show how Lister and the women in her world were fundamentally shaped by the dominant discourses of their time while also demonstrating the power of women's agency to resist and shape those discourses for their own benefit.