Hello, my name is Charlotte Furness. I am a non-fiction writer of women’s history and the history of the country house. I’m here on the P&S blog today to tell you a little bit about my current project, a non-fiction book about women throughout history who did not marry, and some of the exciting events that have happened around the project recently.
The book (title still to be confirmed) will look at six women, the earliest from the 16th century, and the latest from the late 19th century, who did not marry. The book will offer a discussion on the expectations of women and marriage throughout the period but mainly will tell their stories, some of which have never been published before.
One woman who has been part of my research for the past 18months, who will be featured in this upcoming book is Anne Lister of Shibden Hall in Halifax.
You may have seen the new Sally Wainwright drama on BBC One, Gentleman Jack. The drama vividly portrays what life was like in early 19th century industrial Halifax with beautiful sweeping views of the surrounding valleys. The show focuses on the Lister’s of Shibden Hall and in particular Anne Lister who was the head of the family.
Anne inherited the Shibden estate upon the death of her Uncle James in 1828. She never married which meant that she ran the entirety of Shibden herself employing key persons to advise her on business. She was a headstrong woman, ahead of her time in many ways, and she took a strong hand in managing her estates.
We know a lot about Anne’s life because of diaries she wrote from age 15 until her death in 1840 when she was just 49 years old. The diaries were partly written in code to hide Anne’s more private thoughts, especially the remarks about her relationships which are written in explicit detail. The code was broken by Lister relatives in the 1880’s and used by Helena Whitbread in the 1980’s to decode a number of her early diaries.
These diaries have been a remarkable source for my research and have provided me with a wealth of material so that I have been spoiled for choice on what to include. I am looking at the whole of Anne’s life, from her upbringing to her relationships, but I am particularly interested in how she ran the Shibden estate, supporting herself financially. She employed estate managers and businessmen to advise her, but she also educated herself on topics such as mining. This meant that rather than merely selling her land, she made the more profitable decision to mine it herself. She also oversaw her own tenancies, collecting rents and ensuring properties were well maintained and managed.
Anne also travelled in the years both before and just after her inheritance, visiting France, Switzerland, Italy and more. She did eventually settle down at Shibden with Ann Walker, another local heiress who brought money and lands to the relationship which was considered by both women to be a marriage in every sense.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to the West Yorkshire premiere of Gentleman Jack at the Square Chapel Centre for the Arts in Halifax on 9th May where we got to see the stars of the show, watch the first episode and then take part in a Q&A with Sally Wainwright, Suranne Jones who plays Anne Lister, and Sophie Rundle who plays Ann Walker. It was lovely to hear about the passion with which Sally has written this drama – a culmination of many years of research!
It’s very exciting to be researching Anne’s life so intricately and I hope that when my book is published next year, you will also enjoy exploring more of Anne’s life, as well as the other five remarkable women featured.
If you are interested in my writing process and would like more snippets of my upcoming book in the ensuing months, follow me on my Instagram: @charlottefurnesswriter or my facebook page: /charlottefurnesswriter
Lady of the House is available to order now from Pen and Sword.
Catch up on Gentleman Jack here.