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First Trailer for HBO’s Gentleman Jack, the 19th-Century Lesbian Drama We All Deserve

Based on a true story.


When she died in 1841, Anne Lister left behind diaries that ran over 4 million words, with much of her exploits encoded (“x” denoted an orgasm). After parts were published in the 1980s, the writings were so graphic in regards to Lister’s lesbian affairs that people suspected a hoax. They didn’t know Gentleman Jack.

A plaque dedicated to Anne Lister at the Holy Trinity Church in York, England, reads: “Anne Lister, 1791 – 1840, of Shibden Hall, Halifax, Lesbian and Diarist took sacrament here to seal her union with Ann Walker, Easter 1834.” Lister’s “ceremony” with her paramour Ann Walker is now seen as the U.K.’s first lesbian marriage, but cultural approval wasn’t behind Lister and Walker in their day. Their wealth, however, afforded them the opportunity to live a lifestyle outside of traditional bounds.

HBO’s forthcoming drama Gentleman Jack, which will also be shown on BBC One, stars Suranne Jones as Anne Lister. Lister was sometimes referred to as “Gentleman Jack” for tastes—in sexuality and dress—that were viewed as unapologetically masculine and decidedly unladylike.

Youtube comment

The series is set to tell the tale of Lister’s life and loves, and the trailer suggests a focus on her courtship with Ann Walker (played by Sophie Rundle). Jones is known to British audiences for her turns on Doctor Foster and Scott & Bailey, among other roles; also starring in the production is Gemma Whelan, Game of Thrones‘ Yara Greyjoy, who takes on the role of Lister’s sister Marian. Gentleman Jack comes from Sally Wainwright, creator of Scott & Bailey and Happy Valley.

The show’s official tagline reads, “Anne Lister returns to Halifax, West Yorkshire in 1832, determined to transform the fate of her faded ancestral home Shibden Hall.”

Lister would go on to inherit Shibden Hall after her aunt’s death in 1836, where she drew considerable profits from tenants. She was also invested in the industries that marked the Industrial Revolution, like the building of canals, railways, and mining. In every way, it seems, Lister was quite the modern woman. Her relationships are marked by melodrama and the occasional asylum, but she and Walker would live together until Lister passed away at 49 while traveling, another of her great passions.

Journalist Jeanette Winterson writes of Lister:

That sense of self, and self-awareness, is what makes her modern to us. She was a woman exercising conscious choice. She controlled her cash and her body. At a time when women had to marry, or be looked after by a male relative, and when all their property on marriage passed to their husband, Anne Lister not only dodged the traps of being female, she set up a liaison with another woman that enhanced her own wealth and left both of them free to live as they wished.

[…]  Anne Lister was a far more flamboyant, obviously sexual creature supporting the idea of votes for women and taking on men on at their own game. And she enjoyed life. Not for her self-torture.

I think I might be in love. Are you ready for Gentleman Jack? The show is ready to scandalize society on April 22nd.

(h/t commenter Alexisagirlsname for plaque information; image: HBO)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.