Hint of Hidden Passions – The Press & Journal 04 June 2019

Archive: Drama prompts new look into 19th-Century letters between women. Her life is being played out on the small screen in a much-heralded BBC drama.

And now, letters between “Gentleman Jack” and her friend have been unearthed in a Lochaber archive.

Correspondence from Anne Lister and her longterm friend Lady Vere Cameron of Lochiel has come to light after the television adaptation of diaries prompted a fresh look by archivists into general correspondence at Lochaber Archive Centre. Viewers of the Sunday evening programme will have seen Miss Lister’s pain at her friend getting married – and the letters from Miss Lister to Lady Cameron tell a story, with her black-rimmed writing paper congratulating her friend on the birth of a child.

Gentleman Jack tells the story of Miss Lister, of Shibden Hall in West Yorkshire, a lesbian businesswoman, with many questions raised over her relationship with Lady Cameron prior to her marriage. The two women spent time together in Italy. In one of the four rare letters in the archive held at Alexander Ross House, Fort William, Miss Lister writes to her friend in July 1832: “I wish you had more time in Rome, you likely would have more chance of benefiting from Italian skin than English”.

It continues: “I hope you have seen Lady Senora– how is she? And how is the cooking?”

In each of the four letters – written before and after her friend’s marriage to Donald Cameron, of Locheil – she writes to her friend in warm and loving terms, “My dearest Vere”.

Community engagement officer at HiLife Highland Lorna Steele told The Press and Journal she was excited to be able to recategorise the letters.

“These letters are part of an archive from Lord and Lady Cameron of Lochiel and the letters from Anne Lister had been categorised under “general correspondence”.

“After watching Gentleman Jack I took a fresh look at the letters and I was delighted to find these four letters between Anne Lister and Lady Vere Cameron of Lochiel.

“There is no evidence in the letters of anything other than a great friendship between the women.

“In one of them she writes before her wedding andanotheratthebirthof her child – albeit it is on notepaper surrounded in black.”