Will it help #SaveGentlemanJack?
BY KATE STRONG, IMAGE BY BBC/LOOKOUT POINT/HBO/AIMEE SPINKS
A new monument is being constructed to celebrate the legacy of Anne Lister at Shibden Hall in Halifax. Ms Lister was the inspiration behind the Gentleman Jack series based on her diaries, which were discovered hidden in the walls of her historic Yorkshire home. The new monument will celebrate Anne’s contribution to the local mining industry and the strength and determination she showed as a woman to challenge conventions by having her say in a male-dominated field.
Known as “the first modern lesbian”, Anne was a keen diarist who wrote of her romances with women, her love of travelling and her business portfolio. Anne used her sharp wit and knowledge of mathematics, engineering and geology to compete with her business rivals. She expressed her triumph against Mr Rawson (who frequently appears in Gentleman Jack) in her diary. She wrote: “Mr R said he was never beaten but by ladies and I had beaten him. Said I gravely ‘is the intellectual part of us that makes the bargain, and that has no sex, or ought to have none.”
An all-female team of stonemasons has been challenged with the task of building the monument which will be formed by three monoliths. Emma Knowles, project leader, said: “There are so few women working in the stone industry and this is why we want to do everything we can to encourage more to get involved and support them through our network.”
“We are thrilled to have been invited to create the new monument at Shibden Hall to celebrate Anne Lister, who wasn’t afraid to challenge convention and show that women can excel in male-dominated professions.”
The three monoliths will be constructed from ten tonnes of local natural stone which will be donated to the team by Traditional Stone. They will be expertly carved and connected by dry stone walls. The team started work late in August and are hoping to unveil their hard work on 10 September.
This monument goes to prove why figures like Anne Lister are so important to be celebrated because even after her death, the pioneer of women’s rights is still inspiring people to reach for their dreams.
With much of queer history being hidden and covered up, the monument makes a firm stand that lesbians and queer people have existed much longer than the modern day, it finally gives Anne the recognition she deserved. In her lifetime she was othered for her masculine appearance and her sexuality. Even after her diaries were first discovered, they were burnt to avoid bringing shame to her family.
Many people first came to learn about Anne Lister through Suranne Jones’ incredible performance as her in Gentleman Jack. The show (which was filmed at Shibden Hall) finally gave lesbians and bisexual women the representation they needed. The heartfelt, witty and fascinating show felt like a breath of fresh air, and many finally found a character they could relate to. From her heartbreak over lovers to dealing with close-minded people, Anne’s story resonated with many fans who face the very same struggles today.
After the heart-breaking news that HBO had cancelled Gentleman Jack after its second season, many fans were left wanting more, myself included. An out-pouring of love was expressed on social media for the show. Fans started to tag tweets with #SaveGentlemanJack and #BringBackGentlemanJack, not before long a campaign website was launched along with a petition.
With the making of this monument and the enthusiasm of Lister’s supporters, fans have their fingers crossed that the BBC is considering finding a new production company to continue the show. Representation will always matter. As said best by poet Rupi Kaur “Representation is vital otherwise the butterfly surrounded by a group of moths unable to see itself will keep trying to become the moth.”
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