A 19th-century ‘Oddity’ Who Kept a Diary

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Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister
by Anne Choma
Penguin Books. 272 pages, $16.

 

Gentleman Jack
Directed by Sally Wainwright
HBO

 

ANYONE who watches a regular diet of HBO knows that the show Gentleman Jack refers to a real-life English lesbian and landowner of the early 1800s, who is now the charismatic central character in this new series. Anne Lister, born into the scientifically-minded family that produced Joseph Lister and eventually lent its name to Listerine mouthwash, was also one of the great English diarists. In her introduction to Gentleman Jack, the book, Anne Choma explains: “Apart from a few loose diary pages written as a child, and two later smaller exercise books, they [Anne Lister’s journals] amount in total to twenty-four major volumes—7,600 pages, spanning from 1816 until her death in 1840. … Now recognised as a document of global significance by unesco for being one of the longest social commentaries ever written.”

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Jean Roberta is a widely published writer based in Regina, Sask.

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