As Good as a Marriage

The Anne Lister Diaries 1836–38

By Jill Liddington

The BBC and HBO series Gentleman Jack brought Anne Lister to international attention, awakening tremendous interest in her diaries, which run to nearly five million and are partly written in her secret code.

They record in intimate detail Anne’s intellectual energy and her challenges to so many of society’s expectations of women at the time.

In As Good as a Marriage, the sequel to Female Fortune, Jill Liddington’s edited transcriptions of the diaries show us Anne from 1836–38. She guides the reader through life at Shibden Hall after Anne’s unconventional ‘marriage’ to wealthy local heiress Ann Walker. The book explores the daily lives of these two women, from convivial evenings together to her ruthless pursuit of her own business and landowning ambitions.

Yet the diaries’ coded passages also record tensions and quarrels, with Ann Walker often in tears. Was their relationship really as fragile as Anne’s coded writing suggests? This question is at the heart of As Good as a Marriage.

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