Potential Trend Alert: Anne Lister Collected Her Ex-Lovers’ Pubic Hair, Kept Them In Lockets

Are you watching HBO’s Gentleman Jack? I think you should be watching HBO’s Gentleman Jack. Not only because it’s an excellent TV series that accurately portrays the habits of butch lesbians across space and time — for example:

Sitting

Sitting with your girl

Doing your shirtsleeves like this

Allowing yourself to be taken care of by Madam Pomfrey only

— it also captures the spirit of Anne Lister better than any biopic I’ve ever seen about a real lesbian. As I’m sure you know by now, Lister wrote four million words in her 26-volume diary during her lifetime, a sixth of which were transcribed in a code of her own devising. And while the series has been very faithful to her own stories, and surprisingly candida about what a complicated woman she was, there’s no way it can fit in all her “peculiarities.” And so today I shall share with you one of my favorites.

Anne Lister considered herself to be married twice in her life, once to her beloved Mariana, who broke her heart. Anne’s other marriage was to Ann Walker, her main love interest on the HBO series. Their marriage is now considered to be the first gay marriage in the United Kingdom. Both of Anne Lister’s marriages were sealed with communion at the Holy Trinity church in Goodramgate, York. Both engagements were also sealed with the exchange of rings — and Anne Lister’s favorite type of jewelry: a locket with a tuft of her beloved’s pubic hair inside. In fact, she had an ENTIRE COLLECTION of pubic hair lockets.

From Anne’s diary in 1825, about Mariana:

[Last night I] owned that tho’ I had never given any of the hair of my own queer [general pubic area] to anyone, yet I had asked for & received it from others. I had some among my curiosities now. She would know whose. Guessed everybody she could. At last guessed Mrs Milne & my blushing or looking conscious made her suspect. I saw she felt hurt & hastened to contradict. I had blushed at the thought of her guessing so nearly, for it was her sister Anne [Nantz] to whom I had alluded & I had last night said that Anne had made up to me & that we had gone far in flirting.

[Next morning] She cut the hair from her own queer & I that from mine, which she put into each of the little lockets we got at Bright’s this morning, twelve shillings each, for us always to wear under our clothes in mutual remembrance. We both kissed each bit of hair before it was put into the locket.

From 1832, about Ann Walker:

[Ann] also promises me a lock of queer’s hair in the morning – and I am to cut it myself if I like! We fretted ourselves to sleep last night – she lay on me as usual to warm her stomach & then lay in my arms – but I was perfectly quiet & never touched her queer. Just before getting up, I got scissors – took up her night-chemise & attempted to cut the lock, but kissed her queer – gave her the scissors – said she must cut it for me herself – & threw myself into the great chair. She soon gave me the golden lock – threw herself on the chair by me. We wept (& kissed).

I hope you didn’t miss the fact that when she was going through her ENTIRE COLLECTION of pubic hair lockets with her girlfriend, they totally came across one that was from her GIRLFRIEND’S SISTER. Truly, the way we live and love is eternal.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 821 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. OMG. This might be worth subbing to HBO for a month… is the whole season already made or are they doling it out?

    Also I would like if someone told me what parts of GOT to watch to just see Arya and Sansa’s stories. All the GOT mania on the Internet these days has me intrigued but only about specifically them.

  2. As an archivist, I IMPLORE you to not encourage the locket o’pubes idea. Saving hair was a really big thing “back in the day” and some archivist right now is being skeeved out as they rummage through a box from a newly donated collection and come across loose strands of dusty hair. I’ve only touched the head hair of the long dead thus far, but I’m okay just staying with the “up high” kind. Eeesh.

    Of course, the perverse side of me has to give you this: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history/

    • An artist I follow with a macabre streak just purchased some sort of hair memorial piece in a shadow box from an estate sale. The ink’s too faded to read, but def head hair

  3. I get that this is supposed to be just a fun pop culture piece, but I’m still really disturbed by this. It’s not just the collecting of the hair itself that is troubling, but the fact that Lister asked Mariana to guess who all her previous partners were, despite clearly knowing that this was hurtful and that there was a chance that Mariana could be even more profoundly hurt if she found out about her sister. This is not the sort of behavior that we should be laughing about and normalizing; this is the sort of behavior that is a sign of emotional abuse and manipulation. If a man did this to women he dated, he would (rightfully) end up on one of Erin’s lists about crazy shit straight people are up to.

  4. Sooooo…..one time I was trimming my bikini line and my girlfriend stole some of the hair and hid it somewhere….but I guess now I know she was just emulating Anne Lister….:s

  5. I recently disposed of some ziploc baggies containing the hair of my exes (from haircuts in my kitchen, not from their “queers”) as part of cleansing myself of those relationships – I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who has found collecting the hair of my lovers to be some kind of romantic, this is the kind of of scissoring I’m here for.

  6. Great piece, Heather! Considering the female region in discussion,I find it interesting–Freudian?–that in the paragraph after the last pic, when you meant to type “candid” you wrote “candida.”

  7. Ok, my Anne Lister obsession is thoroughly ignited by these stories, but this is perhaps (?) a step too far?

    But really, can we talk about the show? I’m dying, and already rewatching like a fool. Three episodes in and I’m really wishing to hear a poorly-driven horse-drawn carriage pull up outside my townhouse (er…estate.)

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