No Priest But Love

The Journals of Anne Lister, 1824-6

edited by Helena Whitbread

Review by Cathleen Myers

Serious Regency enthusiasts cannot afford to miss No Priest But Love: The Journals of Anne Lister, 1824-6, edited by Helena Whitbread (editor of I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840). Anne Lister, an educated, independent-minded Yorkshire heiress, came to terms with her Lesbianism early on and both her travel journals (mostly about her stay in post-Napoleonic Paris) and her diaries discuss her love affairs and her sexuality in detail. The great love of her life, Marianna Lawton, had made a loveless marriage of convenience with a wealthy landowner. Anne’s affair with Mrs. Lawton continued for years after the marriage until Marianna herself, anxious to preserve her social position, grew cold while Anne grew cosmopolitan. During her own search for a suitable life partner Anne had a series of love affairs with other women, including a Paris fling with an attractive but socially unsuitable widow named Maria Barlow and a socially prominent Parisian, Mme. de Rosny. Anne, in short, led a life not dissimilar to a rakish young man of property who sows his wild oats while searching for an accomplished wife with both social connections and dowry. Rather like those attractive Regency bucks in Georgette Heyer’s novels - except that Anne also found time to study both mathematics and classical languages and to take an active part in managing her uncle’s property (the locals called her "Gentleman Jack" but not to her face!). Because Anne Lister’s journals are so full of details about the life of the period, they are of interest to the general historian as well as to students of the history of human sexuality. Her views on everything from fashion and "cross dressing" to modern dancing (she deplored the gradual disappearance of footwork from country and quadrille dancing in the degenerate 1820’s) to the problems of a single woman travelling abroad (she was advised to style herself "Mrs.") are fascinating - and invaluable to the social and cultural historian.

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