Miss Brown
"...of all the criticisms one might level at Miss Lister whimsical, idiotic and ill-informed are rather wide of the mark"

Miss Brown - "Kallista"

Maria Brown was a local 23-year-old woman (b. Feb 4, 1794), who was from, in Anne's view, a socially inferior family: on the important subject of "calling", Anne writes "besides, she would recollect it is my place too offer the thing, not hers to ask it". This social difference would have been both an advantage and a disadvantage to Anne: Miss Browne would presumably have welcomed the attention from one of the Halifax elite, while public gaze would question why someone like Anne would spend so much time with someone like Maria Brown. Although the relationship was (and ultimately remained) platonic, Anne dedicated a lot of diary space to "Kallista" from 1817 until 1819. Anne was 26 and so only three years older than Miss Brown. It seems that Kallista was never really more than a fantasy for Anne, and she didn't actually intend to seduce her.

Anne became infatuated with Miss Brown (sometimes "Browne" in the diary) in August 1817 after meeting her at scientific lectures in Halifax. The first mention is on the 27th: "Went to the lecture at 7. Having all the 4 preceeding nights admired Miss Brown, daughter of Mr Copley Brown of West Field or West Cottage, sat just before her - handed her several things to look at & contrived to get into conversation with her after the lecture was over - the lecture being longer than usual, & staying a good while afterwards, to look at the apparatus or rather at Miss Brown, did not get home till near 11" (26-Aug-1817).

Miss Brown appears in Anne's life at a point when she's still very much conflicted by her feelings for both Isabella Norcliffe and the newly-married Mariana, as the previous day's coded entry indicates: "In the morning and part of the afternoon got nearly to the bottom of the third page of my letter to Isabella. What a labour! For fear of saying too much I nkow[sic]know not what to say and now such gets my trembling confidence in Mariana that I begin to feel some difficulty even in writing to her. I have not made use of consonantsdoes she mean "consonance"? in my two last letters nor have I said anything particularly affectionate. What will be my fate between these two? At last perhaps I shall ultimately have neither of them - I should be much happier if I could really feel settled in a choice that was in every respect advisable" (27-Aug-1817).

But Anne's obviously taken by her - and sees the risk: "Did nothing but dream of Miss Brown and though I awoke at six yet had not resolution to get up but lay dosing[sic] and thinking of the fair charmer - she is certainly very pretty. She seemed evidently not displeased with my attention and I felt all possible inclination to be as foolish as I ever was in former days - in fact I shall be much better out of the way of the lovely Maria (for such is her name) than in it" (28-Aug-1817).

The next day Anne's a little more introspective: "Got to the lecture a little after 7 & got home again a little before 10. Sat directly behind Miss Brown, & talked to her 10 minutes after the lecture was over - I begin to fancy, if I was to see more I should think less of her. Indeed I am very luckily recovering my senses about - she eevidently[sic] seems flattered by my notice and well she may for I do not notice anyone eelse[sic] much - I wonder what Miss Sarah Stavely would think? I asked her who Miss Brown was the first lecture night and admired her beauty last night - she saw me in such attentive conversation with her that tho' she (Miss S) came up to me I only just asked her how she did. Attention to Miss B has been pointed these two last nights - I wonder if anyone has observed it" (29-Aug-1817).

It's not until the following April that Anne mentions Maria Brown again. She may have been away from Halifax, and both Anne's mother and uncle Joseph died during the intervening period. Anne has engineered a meeting with Miss Browne at the Greenwoods: "Miss Brown, & her 2 friends, the Miss Kellys from Glasgow arrived in about an hour... Considering her situation in life, Miss B- is wonderful - handsome, or rather, interesting, gentle in her manners, entirely free from any sort of affectation, & much more lady-like than any girl I have seen hereabouts - From conversation I made out she is 23 & her sister 17. I wonder what she thinks of me - my attention to her is certainly sufficiently marked to attract her notice. Is she flattered? - I think she is. I have thought of her all the way home, of writing to her anonymously and (as she said when I asked her if she liked Lord Byron's poetry, "Yes, perhaps too well"), of sending her a Cornelian heart with a copy of his lines on this subject.[1] I could soon be in love with the girl" (29-Apr-1818).

And she's still on her mind the next morning: "I awoke at 5 but lay dozing and dreaming and thinking of Miss Brown, contriving how to send her Lord Byron's new dramatic poem accompanied by a note containing merely 'Do you like Lord Byron's poetry?' - 'Yes, perhaps too well'. That is exactly my question and her answer yesterday. It seems my admiration of the ladies is far from being really extinct: it slumbers a little while I am quite out of their way but revives the instant we come in contact. Perhaps it is lucky that I can have so little op[p]ortunity of meeting with this girl" (30-Apr-1818).

"Kallista" first appears in June: Walked from church with Miss Brown as far as the new church parsonage then wished gook[sic] night and turned down the lane leading to Barum Top - offered Mrs[sic] B (Kallista as I shall call her) my arm at the bottom of Horton Street and we two walked together" (14-Jun-1818).

I think it's worth speculating on why Anne chose to call the object of her desire "Kallista"; again, I defer to the experts, in this case Helena Whitbread and Anna Clark:
"Kallista or Callista derives from Callisto from the Greek, meaning 'most beautiful'. Anna Clark, in her article, 'Anne Lister's Construction of Lesbian Identity', Journal of the History of Sexuality, volume 7, number 1, July 1996 (pp.41-50), relates Anne's choice of this name to '... the myth, retold by Ovid, of the nymph Callisto, beloved of Diana, chaste leader of the hunt, who rejected male company. When Callisto rests while hunting, Jove comes upon her, and in order to seduce her, disguises himself as Diana. When Callisto becomes prgnant, Diana turns her into a bear in disgust and anger at her betrayal. If Miss Browne was Callisto, who did Anne see herself: Jove or Diana, or one in the disguise of the other? As Jove, Anne could inflame her fantasises of "taking" lower-class women in a masculine disguise. As Diana, Anne dould imagine a comradeship of free, virginal young women hunting and loving in the forest and identify with her rage when Jove raped Callisto, just as she resented the marriages of the young women she admired.'"[2]

References to Miss Brown continue to appear in the diary, and, as usual, Anne's conflicted: "I don't think quit[e] so much of Miss Brown but still too much" (28-Jun-1818). "Think of going to Pye Nest tomorrow after church on purpose to walk with Miss Brown" (5-Aug-1818), which she does, but the same evening "thought the matter seriously over - lamented - prayed God to have mercy on me and to help me and resolved never more to mention Miss B and to avoid her entirely for the last time" ...maybe just once more... "I will allow myself to try to meet her tomorrow" (6-Aug-1818). But Anne's resolve is no match for Kallista: "How changed since last night when when[sic] I declared to seek after the girl only once more. This once has done the business. I like her and this morning's walk and having got her to meet me tomorrow have certainly made me - shall I call it happier? - than I was before. At any rate she does not shew any antipathy to my attentions" (7-Aug-1818). "This meeting with Miss B seems to have stimulated and roused me alto[ge]ther - I cannot live happily without female society, without someone to interest me" (8-Aug-1818).

A few days later rain forces them into an inn, giving Anne an opportunity to get a little closer: "I told her her gown sleeves were rather too wide and that her frill was not put on straight. I took it off and put it on again taking three trials to it before I woul[d] be satisfied. She did not seem to dislike the thing nor to be unhappy in my society. I think if I choose to persevere I can bring to what terms I please... We shook hands at parting and she kept my hand some seconds - she certainly likes me. I observed however while at the inn that she had dirty nails and that her gown sleeves were not lined and she had no loose sleeves on. Is she very tidy? But she is pretty and I thought of what I should not" (15-Aug-1818).

By 1819 Miss Brown has become engaged to a "Mr Kelly of Glasgow": "She told me I was the only one in Halifax to whom she woul[d] have mentioned the present case, but she is in love it seems and this gives me little hope of making much impression on her in the amatory way - besides, I have not enough opportunity and dare not make any serious or tempting offer. This would never do for me - besides, my penchant is of a lighter nature" (30-Jan-1819).

Helena Whitbread writes that from about March 1819 "Anne's interest in Miss Browne dwindled. The marriage between Miss Browne and Mr Kelly did indeed take place on 28 September 1820. The rerefences to her grow less and less frequent as the time approached".[3] Anne's interest has not quite died, and the "kissing gate" scene we see in The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (the film) happens in August. Isabella Norcliffe ("Tib") is staying at Shibden and Anne has invited several locals for the evening: "Just before we came in from the garden contrived to be a few moments with only Tib and Kallista. The former gave me a kiss and I made it an excuse to kiss Kallista on her lips a very little moistly - she looked shame-faced. Were a few minutes afterwards, us three, in the hall - Kallista said kissing was an odd thing and people made quere[sic] remarks about it. 'These,' said I, 'we none of us understand' - but I think she did not very much dislike it after all" (26-Aug-1819).[4]

This seems to be the end of the infatuation, although references to Miss Brown (and later Mrs Kelly, after her marriage) appear at least until 1824.



Footnotes: 
[1] Helena Whitbread in The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister gives an excellent explanation of the coded message behind this. (In a nutshell, it's an expression of same-sex desire to a social inferior.)
[2] Footnote 6 from the chapter entitled "1814" of The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister by Helena Whitbread.
[3] Helena Whitbread, The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister.
[4] In this entry Anne uses a new symbol, the greek letter θ, which is clearly an abbreviation for Miss Brown - I've transcribed it as "Kallista" simply to indicate the new code.
Page updated 27-Aug-2020
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