If you’ve been enjoying ‘Gentleman Jack’, the BBC drama exploring the diaries of industrialist Anne Lister, then the latest article by Dr Cassie Ulph, lecturer in English Literature at Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU), will be for you.
Dr Ulph’s article looks at Lister’s membership of the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society, of which she was the first female member, and her ambitions to make a lasting mark on her home town.
It is well known that Anne Lister was the first female member of the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society, but what is less well known is how involved she really was with that society, and how common female membership of such a society was.
This article explores how the idea of female membership was debated in the wave of Literary and Philosophical Societies that flourished in the early 19th century, and uses Lister’s diaries and letters to explore her civic ambitions for her hometown of Halifax and her dynastic ambitions for the Lister name.
While Lister was a member of the Lit. and Phil. on paper, evidence of her attendance and participation is scarce; however, her donations to the founding of a new Halifax museum (one of the aims of the society) were significant, particularly given her usually careful spending. What we find from her diaries and letters is a desire to ‘make something…by mind or money’ in spite of barriers to women’s participation in such clubs and societies.
This article thus demonstrates how common aims brought together the men of the Literary and Philosophical Society with this ambitious and unusual woman, but it also questions the extent to which women in this period, even one as unconventional as Lister, could ever truly access or influence this associational world, and the alternative means they found to participate in intellectual culture.
Staff and students at BGU can access the full article here (login required).