The following contains spoilers for Gentleman Jack S2E4, “I Am Not the Other Woman, She Is” and S2E5, “A Narrow and Lucky Escape” (written by Sally Wainwright and directed by Amanda Brotchie)
If there are ever two words that would send Gentleman Jack’s die-hard fans into a frenzy it would be “Christmas 1834”. I discovered this, one Sunday morning back in 2019. Jill Lidington, the author of Female Fortune, had given a speech on Anne Lister in my area just the day before and a group of us had arranged to have brunch with her. We wanted to sit down, enjoy each other’s company, and most importantly, talk about all things Anne Lister. These were the early days when decoding her diary had still been pretty new to all of us and only a small handful were actively working on it. All it took was for one person to say, “So Jill, what are your thoughts on Christmas, 1834?” for most of us to quickly ask, “Wait, what?”
To put it as bluntly, as one possibly could, Anne Lister cheated on Ann Walker with Mariana Lawton.
It’s not as black and white as it may sound above. There are many factors that went into this happening. Series creator, Sally Wainwright, implanted the major ones through Gentleman Jack’s previous Season 2 episodes. All those letters between the two, and Anne’s conflicting feelings have been leading us to “I’m Not the Other Woman, She Is”.
For a historical view of the situation, I highly recommend checking out the podcast, Her Story in the Archives which has an episode that specifically focuses on the Christmas of 1834. It manages to give background on Lister and Lawton, explain the stresses Mariana was under because of the scandals Charles was involving himself in, and break down all the details that come from Lister’s diary. It never once places the blame on one individual because in the grand scope of things they were all guilty in their actions.
You can possibly imagine how controversial it is for those of us who knew about Christmas, 1834 when Gentleman Jack received a second season. The excitement of having Lister and Walker’s story continue quickly turned to horror as we began to realize that there could be no way Wainwright would be able to avoid this situation. Instead, we theorized about the ways she would carry it out. Would she make the entire season lead to that night? Would it be the “midseason” episode that will set the stage as to how the rest of the season pans out? How much would she go into it?
I think for a lot of us, these questions burned in our heads because we had been rooting for the Ann(e)s to end happily ever after. We wanted to live in the illusion that the outside world would never come to affect our favorite couple with such a human concept as adultery. That’s why hearing that Anne Lister cheated on Ann Walker was such a punch in the gut. I can tell you when I discovered the events of Christmas, 1834 I actually cried. Up till that point, I had known Anne’s story from both the show and from reading The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. I had put her on this pedestal where she could never do such a thing because of what went through to end up with Walker.
We’re all human though, and the sucky thing about being human is that sooner or later we end up hurting one another. I strongly believe that the events of Christmas, 1834 were going to happen either way. Mariana and Anne have so much unfinished past that they really are a high-speed locomotive that is hurtling towards the cliff edge. Christmas, 1834 is just what happens when they eventually go over.
Sally Wainwright crafted Episode 4’s “I’m Not the Other Woman, She Is” to act as the climax and conclusion to the Ann Walker/Anne Lister/Mariana Lawton love triangle subplot. The episode uses the tone of a Gothic Vampiric Tale to tell a story of lust and regret.
There are many times when watching that I found myself thinking of Dracula and when Jonathan Harker is visiting Dracula’s castle. While visiting, he gets seduced by Dracula’s brides and finds himself becoming their prey. It’s in this similar way that Mariana treats Anne while she is visiting. She is constantly shown with a ghostly appearance as she wanders the cold, gigantic hallways of her home. When she goes to Anne’s bed chambers it’s constantly with an ulterior motive.
In these last few episodes, she’s been shown slowly deteriorating. Her stomach issues and dizzy spells appear to instantly be cured once she is able to fully seduce Anne into sleeping with her. Once Mariana finally gets her wish and Lister descends down the spiral of her feelings, Lawton comes out the other end looking fully replenished of her strength. She’s suddenly full of life whereas Lister looks completely drained of hers because of guilt.
There were scenes that echoed one another in this episode that showed the difference between the relationships Anne Lister has with these two women. I absolutely loved Lister and Lawton taking communion and Lister doing so in repentance. It is shot for shot how Lister and Walker took their communion to wed where she was full of joy.
We must remember that Gentleman Jack‘s Mariana is a portrayal of who this woman might have been. In the series, she comes off as only wanting to flaunt her control over Lister. She wants to make sure Anne understands that she can easily have her at any given moment. Walker or no Walker. Mariana holds the power and “I’m Not the Other Woman, She Is” allows her to demonstrate that control. This isn’t love. It’s one big power move. When they sleep together there isn’t longing to be close to one another being shown, it’s hunger and addiction.
When Anne returns to Shibden, completely guilt-ridden, the very first thing she does is tell Ann Walker that she “Shan’t leave her again.” It’s that thing spouses do when they know they’ve done something bad. Lister’s greeting to Walker is how a cheating husband would return home with a bouquet of flowers and chocolates in order to hide that he’s not only been out but he’s been with another person romantically. When the two go to bed, the way they are with one another isn’t as animalistic as it was with Lawton. Instead, it is full of longing and real passion.
Something I’ve enjoyed about Gentleman Jack has been Sally Wainwright’s ability to bring the passion Anne Lister had for women and balance it with the other spit-firing aspects of her life. Season 1 told the story of Anne’s entry into coal mining and this season has already shown her experiencing her first train ride and demonstrating her presence in Halifax.
Episode 5, “A Lucky and Narrow Escape” easily is my favorite episode of the season thus far. It pulls away from the soap opera drama of Anne’s romantic life and focuses on who she is as a person. It’s a stark contrast to Christmas, 1834 but in many ways, it flows perfectly into allowing us to break this picture-perfect mold that Lister has crafted in our eyes during the first season.
Anne is an incredible woman who has tackled many things, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that she sometimes isn’t a decent person. What I enjoy about “A Lucky and Narrow Escape” is that it’s here to remind us of this.
The episode centers around the 1835 elections occurring that quickly turned violent after the Blue Party (the Tories) wins the last seat from the Yellow “Labor” Party by one vote. It became known as the “Window Breaking Election” because the Yellows decided to revolt against the outcome by taking to the streets and destroying Blue Party-run businesses and homes.
I am a history nerd so any time where I get to explore historical events is always going to be exciting for me. I love learning about these little local stories that usually get left out of the history books. The fantastic thing with Lister’s diary is that we receive a bunch of accounts since Anne lived through it.
It was at this time the Yellow Party was made up of the working class. These people were the ones who struggled to feed their families. Meanwhile, the Blue Party consisted of wealthy families of both old and new money. With the Blue Party winning the seat that would mean the wealthy would continue to benefit while the lower classes struggled to live. Anyone who’s paid attention in their History classes when learning about the Industrial Revolution will know that this growing tension between the classes will result in numerous laws being made.
Since women were not allowed to vote, Anne Lister would coerce her tenants to vote in her favor. We all get caught up in Anne’s love life and how important to LGBT+ history she is that we forget about these other aspects of her life. Seeing this not-so-pretty side of Lister is just as important as seeing the romance, and Sally Wainwright crafts these types of episodes to do that.
There is a moment in Episode 5 where Anne visits the solicitor, Mr. Parker (Bruce Alexander), and tells him that one of the requirements in becoming a tenant for her new hotel would be to vote Blue. This would solidify that the Blue Party standing in the village would continue to be strong and people like Lister would continue to reap its benefits.
As I’ve mentioned back in Episode 2’s recap, there are times when I just want to yell at Anne for being completely oblivious. She is one to reflect more on how a situation would make her look than to be considerate of the other’s feelings.
A moment that hit hard, and at least for me, harder than the whole Christmas, 1834 thing was when Marian (Gemma Whelan) attempts to tell Anne that she plans to marry Mr. Abbott. This season has seen the Lister sisters’ relationship build to a point where there appears to be respect between the two. But this moment was one that showed how selfish Anne could truly be.
Anne completely refuses to give her blessing since she doesn’t like Mr. Abbott because of how he has come into his money. He is what is considered “new money” which she believes is below the standards of the Listers. She goes so far as to tell Marian that if she were to marry him, she would be cut off completely.
There have been moments when I yelled at my television because Anne had made an awful decision. Back in Season 1, there’s a moment when she goes to tell her Footman to ready the horses so they can leave. At first, it looked as though she is going to say Scotland, which was where Walker had gone, but instead, she says Paris. This moment with Marian has become one of those times where I wanted to yell.
I struggle to understand how Anne Lister, a woman who has had society tell her time and time again that she’s not allowed to marry the woman she loves, will go around and tell her own sister that she wouldn’t be able to marry the man she wants. Instead, she continues to push on Marian that she is better than settling, but this isn’t settling because Marian is truly happy. It hurt when Marian tells her that “no one else has asked” and instead of sympathizing with her, Anne insists that it will eventually happen.
I can move past her questionable and greedy political views but when it comes to this hypocritical behavior towards the people that have been nothing but supportive, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
Even though I may not fully agree with who Anne Lister has been becoming, I will admit that I hold in admiration Gentleman Jack‘s ability to sculpt this multilayered character. She’s vulnerable, passionate, and sometimes cruel but within all of that, she feels real. Episodes 4 and 5 have taken a moment to pause our fixation on this perfect person and reassure us that she is just as flawed as the rest of us. Do we have to love how she is in these two episodes? No. Knowing this part of her, does this mean we shouldn’t continue to look up to her? Of course not, but it stresses that even our heroes have flaws that should not be overlooked just because we love them so much.