Get planning that lesbian pilgrimage, DIVAs

BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGE BY SURANNE JONES.

In a historic moment for LGBTQIA+ representation, a sparkling new statue of nineteenth-century diarist Anne Lister has been unveiled in her hometown of Halifax. A £25,000 installation, it is titled Contemplation, and is now on permanent display at the famous Grade I-listed Piece Hall.

Described as the “first modern lesbian” for her raunchy diary entries, Anne was immortalised in Sally Wainwright’s BBC drama Gentleman Jack. Starring Suranne Jones as Anne and Sophie Rundle as her wife, Ann Walker, the show, set in 1832, depicts Anne’s workings as a local landowner and industrialist. Director Sally Wainwright spent years interpreting Anne’s diaries, written in a clever secret code, unveiling the details of her relationships with other women. Her words amounted to an impressive five million.

A constant trailblazer against historic gender roles, Anne was infamous for wearing suit jackets rather than petticoats: she refuted heteronormativity in her marriage to Ann Walker, marked with a church ceremony widely recognised as Britain’s first known lesbian wedding.

Suranne is delighted that Anne’s legacy has become visible to mainstream society, stating of her character: “She has to gender-shift, in a way, and is hiding in plain sight. She is constantly facing challenges every single day of how people look at her and view her. And now in 2021 she’s sat here in the middle of the Piece Hall, where everyone comes to have their family days out. I think that’s what’s important about this specific piece of art”.

“It’s one of the hardest roles I’ve had to play, because the language is really tough and I’m in almost every scene. I’m fiercely proud of what we’ve created here. It just speaks to visibility, and I’m just very proud to be part of it”, she continues. “I hope that local people will talk about Anne Lister, about who she was and why she’s important. I hope they’ll see this image of her, which is a very intelligent, very athletic woman, and it will inspire them”.

Anne Lister’s home of Shibden Hall is also open to the public, so now is as good a time as ever to get planning that lesbian pilgrimage, DIVAs.

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