Anne Lister

Providing new perspectives on LGBT history in Calderdale

calderdale-anne-listerAnne Lister (1791-1840) is often described as the most famous (or infamous) resident of Shibden Hall, a beautiful historic house dating back to 1420, owned and managed by Calderdale Museums.

Anne was a Victorian landowner, businesswoman, traveller and diarist, and it was the publication of her diaries in the late 1980s, revealing her feelings for other women and her lesbian relationships, which have contributed to her subsequent notoriety. In 2010, BBC Two broadcast a production based on Lister’s life, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, starring Maxine Peake as Lister.

In telling the story of Shibden Hall, previous generations, in keeping with prevailing attitudes of the time, have skirted around Anne’s sexual orientation. Indeed, when her diaries were first decoded in the 1930s, they were nearly burned owing to their ‘scandalous nature’, and were subsequently hidden behind a panel for decades until being rediscovered and published.

Modern audiences clearly expect better. We have been keen to make her an integral part of our interpretation of the hall, recognising her lesbianism, while also making clear that she was a complex and very human figure, not just a one-dimensional icon. To do this, we have engaged with her biographer and the translator of her diaries, as well as people with a passion for LGBT history.

A ‘warts and all’ portrayal

We believe this approach is the right one. Shibden Hall is now very firmly on the list of important places to visit for people with an interest in LGBT history. We have received positive feedback on our approach to her story from LGBT individuals and community groups, who like the fact that we show her ‘warts and all’.

We want to ensure that the way we tell her story continues to evolve and stay fresh, and have used Shibden Hall as the setting for the ‘Inaugural Anne Lister Conference; women, gender and sexuality in the 19th Century’ in April 2014.

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