One of the coolest things about Gentleman Jack the series is that it’s based on a real person who had one of the most crazy, trope-y lives in the entire universe. She invented ‘queer coding’ which in her case was literally a secret code in order to write her diaries which included such gems as “Today I ate an apple and had six orgasms.”
How can you not love this lady?
I was recently at a live taping of the podcast History is Gay, and started making a list of all the crazy things that Anne Lister did that sounded like it was straight out of a fan fiction, but actually, legit, really totally happened!
- They were roommates!
While it doesn’t happen on the show, Anne was roommates with her first girlfriend!
At the tender age of 14, Anne Lister was sent off to boarding school for being generally super queer. Of course, it was an all girls boarding school, and Anne being Anne, she got into trouble for being, wait for it, really queer. She and another girl, Eliza, were sent to share a room in the attic (shades of Facts of Life) where they came up with the crypto-code Anne later used in her infamous diaries.
Eventually Anne was sent back home, presumably for being too queer for school. Eliza went ‘mad’ following their breakup.
Of course, Anne did end up moving her wife, Ann Walker, in with her at Shibden, so no matter how you look at it, they were roommates.
- And, And, And …
There are a lot of ‘And’ kind of tropes in fan fiction, by which I mean “Blond and Brunette” or “Grumpy and Happy” or “Toll and Smoll” and yes of course, “Butch and Femme” — Anne Lister and Ann Walker met a whole lot of those. They missed out on Docs & Cops, but only by a little since Anne studied science.
Interestingly enough, depending on how you look at it, Anne Lister is both the grumpy and the cheerful. She was super extra and wore black all the time to mourn her lady loves who married men, while Ann Walker tended towards brighter colors. On the flip side, Anne is always smiling at Ann.
- Mary Sue
The dreaded Mary Sue is controversial at best. After all, a million stories are told about the guy who is good at whatever without training, so why are people mad about the woman?
Right. Anyway, Anne was a landowner, smart, educated, well traveled, spoke multiple languages, and basically earned a million toasters by turning a number of women to the joys of lady loving.
Of course she might want to work on how to mention that…
The whole reason we know a lot about Anne Lister is that she wrote it all down. It would be the work of about ten seconds to figure out how to convert her escapades into a vlog or blog, and in fact that’s pretty much what happened with the series Gentleman Jack.
Anne was a prolific diarist, and yes, that gif is her going to record how many orgasms were involved in the sex that just happened.
I owe a good deal to this journal. By unburdening my mind on paper I feel, as it were, to get rid of it; it seems made over to a friend that hears it patiently, keeps it faithfully, and by never forgetting anything, is always ready to compare the past & present & thus to cheer & edify the future.From Anne Lister’s journal entry of 22nd June 1821.
- Breaking the 4th Wall
In the series, Anne turns to the camera to address us. This is somewhat controversial, but it’s a common enough trope in British tv series. That said, it’s not just Anne who looks at us in the show.
Even Anne’s sister gets in on the game of “Are you seeing this queer binch?” Inviting us all in on the fun of being a part of the story, the breaking of the fourth wall is a nice wink and nudge.
- Too Many Ann(e)s!
Anne and Ann. If you write fan fiction, or really any fiction with two same-gendered partners, you know the drama of ‘wait, which her is that.’ Thankfully Anne and Ann spell their names differently, but they’re not the only two Ann(e)s in the story!
Anne, Ann, Marian, Mariana, Aunt Anne, Aunt Ann, and on and on and on. No wonder Anne Lister had to use a crypthand code!
- Anne Bangs Everyone (Female)
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Sara Lance has nothing on Anne Lister. Even with a time-traveling spaceship, Sara doesn’t have as many affairs nor does she break as many hearts.
Liar. She’s done this a lot of times. With a lot of women. Including married ones. While the official website lists five, there are many, many, many more.
Also can we have the “Sara Lance meets Anne Lister” episode on Legends please?
- Not A Phase
Many people, especially bi and pansexuals, have been told that it’s just a phase. It’s not.
Now, you can’t make someone be gay any more than you can make them be straight. The whole “One more and I get a toaster” joke is meant to be funny and cute and a recognition of that fact. Anne? Not only did she sleep with a lot of women, she also ‘flipped’ a lot of women, or at least introduced them to the possibility.
It worked with mixed results, but thankfully for many of us, Anne Lister knew she was not straight. Her feelings for women were her “god given right” and while she called it her “oddity” she also established that being queer is not a choice. It’s just who we are.
A super popular theme for fan fiction is the ‘hurt/comfort’ story. That naturally involves someone getting hurt and someone else caring for her. One of the major themes in the series is Ann Walker’s sanity. Is she crazy? Is she just feeling the pangs of lesbianism and feminism in a repressed age?
Sadly the real answer is muddled and confusing. But Anne really did all she could for Ann, even if their road was rocky.
- Just Gals Being Pals (AKA “Harold …”)
The funny thing was … people knew. They absolutely knew she was a diarist, but they kind of also knew something was a little odd about Anne Lister, and her ‘really close friendships’ with women.
In and of itself, Anne’s sexuality (which she called ‘her oddity’) was more or less known by the locals.
That’s a lot of trope in one life, and I haven’t really dug deep into the show. If you’re interested in learning more about Anne Lister or even helping transcribe her diaries so more people can learn about the first western modern lesbian, go to AnneLister.co.uk and join the fun.
Also don’t forget to listen to History Is Gay’s upcoming episode on Anne Lister (you can hear me answer the final question in the live part correctly, hey!), because we are, in fact, super queer.
And finally … what other fan tropes did you see in Gentleman Jack?