'My mind on paper': Anne Lister and literary self-construction in early-nineteenth-century Halifax

Rowanchild, Anira (2000). 'My mind on paper': Anne Lister and literary self-construction in early-nineteenth-century Halifax. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e28e

Abstract

Anne Lister (1791-1840), a provincial gentlewoman of Shibden Hall, near Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire, produced between 1806 and her death a four-million-word diary documenting her daily life, intimate thoughts, ambitions, sexual and emotional adventures with women and her musings on the nature of her sexuality. About a sixth is written in cipher.

Lister scholarship so far has focused mainly on the social and cultural implications of her writings. This thesis, however, examines the diary as a literary text and considers Lister's deployment of literary forms and structures, strategies and conventions in producing a sense of self. It explores her relationship to contemporary ideas of authorship and to notions of public and private, and investigates the impact of reading in the autobiographical writing of Lister and her circle and the significance of the cipher in her social and sexual self-representation. It asks whether her literary production helped accommodate her self-representation as a traditional country gentlewoman with her unconventional sexuality.

The linking theme throughout the thesis, bringing together the many different aspects of Lister's self-fashioning, is the significance of literary considerations in her diary and letters. It begins the work of investigating the literary structures and strategies of her writings, and offers a fresh perspective on this remarkable work of literary self-construction.

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