& Moira Bianchi: All the women in Gentleman Jack

quinta-feira, 24 de outubro de 2019

All the women in Gentleman Jack

hello! It's been a while since I watched Gentleman Jack but I'm still in love with the series... How couldn't I be? 

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At first I was mainly curious about it because it is set in 1832, the time frame for my historical Jane Austen fan fiction novel ECLIPSE OF THE HEART, book 2 of the LOVE IN 3 ACTS trio. 
As a Brazilian shying from writing historical fiction set here (especially in Rio de Janeiro) due to the abhorring practice of slavery that only started to ebb away from 1888 on, I'm always thristy for research material - any kind I can get my hands on. A  BBC/HBO production couldn't be too far from the reality, not that I keep checking to make sure the poetical licenses are not too big... Nope, not me. Huh, huh.
And what was my surprise and deep curiosity? I had never heard of  Anne Lister before.
shame on me!
I'm always sniffing around for any sort of files, manuals, historical documents, great personalities and still, nothing of the remarkable life of this woman had ever came to my knowledge. Not a clue! I was deeply disappointed in myself. 
So there was that characteristic of her homossexuality and the fact that Anne Lister wasn't the only one at the time. Duh! 

This I was aware of, humans are humans since forever, it's in our nature to experiment and cross boundaries in order to find a place to fit. Or a life style. Or a self-assurance. 
My historical romance novels tend to talk about that, the search; in the LOVE IN 3 ACTS trio there is a homossexual character, a nobleman, who lives a socially accepted life in the outside; his whole in Darcy & Lizzy's affair grows and shifts according to the problems they find. But he is a guy, and rich. How much different/difficult it was for a woman?
Women's little lives were so much more constrained than ours, what could they do about 'unusal preferences' in the 19th century?
Oh, btw, I have to warn you. I'm the spoiler queen and this post is filled with info and bits and POV. 

historical place at the Lister family property, Shibden Hall - Halifax 

For all those reasons,
this show was pure delight for me! 

These are the opening credits, notice the fantastic wardrobe for Anne! Petticoats, long skirt, pocket watch, cravat, coat and top hat! 
So ambiguous, so hybrid!

She is (was) a lesbian. Yes.
There are sexual insinuations of a liaison between women. Yes.
Anne seduces women. Yes.
But also there is something else no one considers:

and that is wonderful!

-Aunt Anne, old and sickly, who lives vicariously through her niece's (Anne Lister) aventurous life;
-Marian, Anne Lister's sister, spinster and hopeful, who makes a huge effort to marry in order to save her own life; 
-Eugénie, the wanton and stupid maid, who falls in love for any man and ends up rejected;
-Condingley, the wise and nice maid, who was thrown into the cook post because an illness prevents her from keep travelling with Anne;
-Mrs. Priestley, the prejudiced and gossiping neighboor, who plots against Anne for misunderstanding and judgement of other people's love choices;
-Ann Walker, poor rich girl, who is exploited & abused for her beauty and money by relatives, men, servants;
-Elizabeth, Ann Walker's unhappily married sister, who was duped by her husband interested in her money, not her company;
-Mrs. Aimsworth, deceased, unhappy and unable to fight her vile horrible husband;
-Mary, the frightened and abused tenants' wife, who lived under her violent husband's reign of terror;
-Susannah, the curious and smart steward's daughter, who marries a man without knowing he killed his own father;
-Mariana, rich and smart friend of Anne Lister, who decided to marry a man for fear of social sanctions to her sexuality;
-Anne Lister, our hero, a woman ahead of her time, adventurous, smart, clever, learned, who cheats on the society's restrict rules imposed to women. Of course, it wasn't cheap. 
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These pictures came from BBC one on Twitter, all beautiful photos of the female characters compared to delicious treats... I thought it so... interesting. Of all the thousands of allegories they could have chosen, it was food to be eaten, indulgencies, small sins even. 

During the first three episodes I was very excited about wardrobe, settings, great acting, Anne Lister's manly funny gestures. She is very amusing and... Gentlemanly. The way she speaks, move around, behave when in women's company - very interesting detail is that she is allowed along women anytime because she is one of them, although she behaves like a man. The liberties only man of the family could have with the women but actually being a friend paying a visit. Ha! Many times she is in her shirt and waistcoat, no coat at all, while talking and telling jokes about her travels around the world.

hollywood reporter
And when she eventually wears girly dresses, it is hilarious!  

I kept wondering and comparing, thinking that if it was the reverse, if such thing could happen... if, if, if... Then I searched her diaries and found out that the writer of the show Sally Wainright (who did such a greeeeeat job) actually used SEVERAL QUOTES verbatin! And then I stopped. It was better to research after I finished bingewatching the show to avoid finding errors or too big licenses. It was the best thing I could do!
hiccup broom
That way I could enjoy all the small little sweet details as the perpetually sagging shoulders on the depressive Ann Walker's dresses opposed to the smart outfits for Anne Lister; the colorful prints in Marian dresses, the rich dresses for Mariana and the watery tones for Elizabeth, the sad sister.

So I arrived in episode 4. 

This scene was when the show really got me.
It came from another important one when Anne Lister demands an answer from Ann Walker: she must decide if she prefers to stay by her side (Lister) or marry her late friend's widower (I talked about Aimsworth above). Pressured, the depressive Ann sends a fruit basket (such an expensive gift) to Anne with a letter asking her to pick the answer 'yes' or 'no' from a pouch hidden between the treats since she is unable to solve her own life. Anne goes mad in rage and desperation, visits Ann and shouts if other people's lives are only a child's game to her. And then, me who was enraptured by the events so far, went mouth agape with this >>>

Did you notice the bidings of female reality? 

The many layers of social restraints?

The rich heir was abused constantly by her sickly friend's husband while the woman was in the joining room. Did she know and allowed because she was older than the husband (the 15 years difference between husband and wife is mentioned earlier in the show; also that the friend used to say that when she died, it would be up to Ann to care for the husband... Poor man... Boohoo!) Was she being fooled? Was this something created for the show? I didn't have the guts to research...
This complicity with us is very cool, each episode has such one moment. Usually this 'breaking of the 4th wall' is something funny or teasing, but this one broke my heart. 

From this point on I started to pay more attention to the other women in the show and found distance from the 'lesbian' - which was supposed to be the main attraction. The Anne Lister shown is much more than her sexuality, what at the time was considered 'something that people did' and not 'what people were'. She was the queen of her domain, cared for her property, made investments, bought, sold, decided everything... As much as we do today and as many of us still cannot do. It was pretty amazing!

In real life, Anne and Ann got anonymous hate mail too, only crueler than in the show, dirty jokes like posting adds searching for husbands in their names. In the show Anne is attacked violently and painfully humiliated. Also her sister in a very moving scene. Ann suffers from depression so severe that she ends up falling under social pressures. Elizabeth regrets having put herself in the awful position of her own husband's hostage when she accepted the unfortunate marriage. 

Life is hard in any era, I suppose.

annelister co

I believe that Anne Lister didn't actually have the intention of leaving us moral lessons, she kept journals for her own cathartic needs. It is said that she took the habit when she was isolated in an attic in tender age while at a boarding school. At the time she started a code (above) that she used up to her suden death, maybe from a mosquito bite along a tour through Russia - she was 49 years old.  
annelister co

As Jane Austen, she too wrote long letters and sometimes used the paper as much as she could scribbing in different direction. 


But even unwittinly, her diaries left us incredible clues of female evolution through time. You don't have to be lesbian to enjoy the show or admire her amazing deeds. In fact, you may even fast foward the risqué scenes if you'd rather - or skip them altogether. Not many anyway. 

BTW: Gentleman Jack was a manner one of her lovers addressed her in mail, to disguise the homossexual liaison...

All in all, watch it. 
It's worth it.
look out point tv
I'm anxious for season 2!

see ya

I researched  herehereherehereherehereherehere and stopped because I have a lot to do, But could easily spend the whole day at it. 
All videos came from BBC one on Twitter. Many thanks.

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