This month, Avid Bookshop is hosting The Real Anne Lister: Queer Champion or Cavalier Snob?, a discussion group about the life, the triumphs, and the controversies of Anne Lister, a woman often considered the first modern lesbian. This event will take place on Saturday, July 27th, 2019, from 6:30-7:30 pm at our Prince Ave location and is free and open to the public. We encourage you to purchase a copy of the book prior to the event!
ABOUT ANNE LISTER:
Anne Lister was born in 1791 and died in 1840 in Kutaisi, Georgia. She spent this entire time defying all expectations of womanhood that were impressed upon her by her family and society. Anne was everything that a woman should not have been in a time like the 19th century: educated, arrogant, passionate, and at times, ruthless. She was known to wear masculine attire all in black, and involved herself in plenty of business enterprises such as coal mining and railway investments.
Anne Lister wrote in her lifetime a diary that contained no less than 4 million words, scribbled into 26 volumes and 14 travel diaries. These diaries were certainly evidence of her own narcissism, but large sections of the diary were also in code, which when deciphered, revealed explicitly-written descriptions of Lister’s affairs with multiple women throughout her life. These passages completely altered lesbian history as we know it and revealed a life of travel, unconventionality, and unfettered ambition.
In a lot of ways, Anne Lister was a pioneer. She is one of the only 19th century historical figures known to regard her sexuality as an identity or to have any self realization about her love of women; furthermore, her diaries show a very different picture of lesbian relationships than the hair-braiding, hand-holding ones imagined by historians in the past. But Lister had a darker side as well-- she was egotistical, controlling, pompous, classist, and often seemed to have little regard for her many lovers, or anyone else for that matter. She preferred her lovers to be lady-like and pliable and dreamed of marrying an upper-class woman so she could finally enter the high society that she was certain fitted her intelligence and personality far better. She used her lovers for their money and treated her tenants harshly to get more money out of them, and if her behavior needs any more clarification, her first and last loves (Eliza Raine and Ann Walker respectively) ended up in mental hospitals.
Thus, in this event we will ask the question: is Anne Lister a lesbian hero to be celebrated? Or should another less controversial figure take her place? There is no question that her diaries are historically relevant and that she should be remembered, but as popular culture begins to gain awareness about this previously unknown woman, we beg the question: is this striking woman worth honoring?
Purchase our featured book about Anne Lister here