Gentleman Jack Recap: Season 1, Episode 1 ("I Was Just Passing")

Hello Shakers! Who is watching Gentleman Jack? For those not familiar:
Gentleman Jack is an eight-episode drama series from BAFTA-winning writer Sally Wainwright (To Walk Invisible, Happy Valley).

Set in 1832 West Yorkshire, England, Gentleman Jack is inspired by the true-story and coded journals of Anne Lister (played by Suranne Jones), and follows her attempt to revitalize her inherited home, Shibden Hall. Most notably for the time period, a part of Lister's plan is to help the fate of her own family by taking a wife.
The series is on HBO and runs Monday nights at 10 PM. I will be posting weekly recaps here at Shakesville starting today! My first recap, of the pilot, is below. (Note: Recaps will include spoilers for that episode.)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
—Ancient lesbian proverb

We first meet Anne Lister in 1832 when she's arriving to her family home, Shibden Hall, in Halifax, England from abroad. In addition to her take-charge attitude, what is most apparent about Anne at this point is that she wears a combination of, for the era, men's and women's clothing, and then she sweetens the deal by wearing what can probably best be described as the 1800s lesbian version of Princess Leia buns.

So yes, I'm listening, Gentleman Jack. Tell me more.

We also learn that, unlike many women during this time, she is a landowner, as her uncle left her Shibden Hall when he died.

Arriving with Anne is a pregnant woman who only speaks French, but we don't get much back story on her yet other than that George impregnated her, whoever that is. We also saw a little boy fall off a stagecoach and hurt his leg, and I assume that will become relevant to the plot at some point.

Once at Shibden Hall, we meet Anne's elderly aunt and father, along with her sister, Yara Greyjoy. Well, her sister's real name is Marian, so I guess we'll stick with that, but I couldn't pass up a chance to give a shoutout to my favorite queer woman from Game of Thrones.

While the family has a mid-day meal of bread, soup, and goblets of wine, as one does, we learn that "Briggs" can't collect the rent from their tenants. The reason supplied for this state of affairs was simply, "dropsy," which I presume is an old-timey illness that people who watch period pieces are familiar with. I, who only watch period pieces when they involve lesbians, had to google it.

Anyway, Anne now has to go collect the rents instead which, as we learn from other people's reactions, is a highly inappropriate thing for a woman to do. Marian, for instance, gets all over Anne's case for strutting around Halifax in an unladylike fashion. "It's a man's job!" she exclaims about collecting rent. And sure, maybe so, but Marian herself is wearing a doily around her neck while being neither a child's doll nor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and everyone lets that slide, so maybe Marian should take a chill pill.

Regardless, Anne's mind is made up. She sets up a table at the Stag's Head Inn and collects rent from her tenants. There, we learn that she's assertive, detail-oriented, and refuses to be pushed around by men who try to bully her into accepting lower rents. She has already pissed off at least one man, which both delights me and makes me nervous. This is the 1800s, lady!

Later, we learn that Anne had a female lover*, Vere Hobart, who just recently married a man. (*I'm generally opposed to using the word "lover" myself, but it's also not clear how Anne refers to her relationships with women. Girlfriend and partner don't seem to be in her lexicon, at least that we see yet.) Anyway, Anne is heartbroken, which seems to be a big reason she has returned home.

In later conversation with her aunt, who apparently knows she's gay and upset, her aunt lets her know about a certain Ann Walker who is both rich and as single as they come.

Later, a guy named Thomas visits the little boy who fell off the stagecoach. Thomas has brought the family some "bits and pieces," by which he apparently means a basket containing a blanket, a baguette, and a... ah yes of course, a dead bunny.

Just what the doctor ordered.

Meanwhile, Anne receives a lady visitor at Shibden, Mrs. Lawton, who is also a former lover, presently married to a man. They eat dinner and then have sex, immediately after which Anne looks at her pocketwatch and - I'm fairly certain - writes down in her journal the length of time they had sex for. Mrs. Lawton either doesn't notice or is just used to Anne's peculiar ways. Mrs. Lawton then suggests to Anne that she marry a man herself, to which Anne incredulously replies, "Have we met?" Indeed, she seems all-around repulsed by the idea, calling it "perverse." Anne makes it clear that she is intent on finding a woman to build a life with and that's that.

In a bit of foreshadowing, we then cut to the aforementioned Ann Walker, single woman in possession of a good fortune, who is in conversation with an older married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Priestly. Ann is a forlorn-seeming gal. At one point, a male doctor visits and does that thing where he talks about her "condition" to her relative, as though she herself were not even in the room. I'm no doctor, but part of her "condition," it seems, is being really fucking angsty about living in a society where that kind of doctor visit would happen at all.

Anyway, Ann certainly perks up when the conversation turns to Anne Lister. Mrs. Priestly says she is a big "fan" of Anne Lister's (which I'm immediately curious about). They collectively arrive at the idea of visiting Anne and then like five minutes later they arrive at Shibden.

There, they all immediately start talking about politics, including suffrage rights, while Ann and Anne sit close together as if already a couple. Ann looks at Anne, in a manner I would not describe as 100% heterosexual, for pretty much the duration of the visit.

It's completely obvious that Ann is smitten at first sight and that makes me anxious for them. As mentioned, this is 1832 Halifax, not a clandestine glove-lunch at Lezzies in 1950s New York! (Also, LOL at them having the same name. Of course, of course). The Priestlys then start joking about how Anne keeps a very detailed journal and Ann better "be careful" so she doesn't end up in it. Ope! I'm fairly certain Ann wants to end up in it!

We then get a voice-over from Anne, where I presume she's narrating a journal entry, pontificating about whether she should stay at Shibden for awhile and make Ann Walker her wife. She actually uses the word wife, which is interesting for the time period.

Finally, Anne euthanizes a horse because no one else in the household is able to do it and I guess that's supposed to symbolize that the head of the household is back or possibly something more literary or deep that I'm missing? I don't know. The end.

Bits and pieces: Before starting this series, I read several interviews with series creator and writer Sally Wainwright. It seems Wainwright has wanted to make this series for a long time, and that Anne Lister was a real, and possibly hypergraphic, person who kept incredibly detailed and lengthy journals. I'm intrigued to see where the series, and Anne, goes in Wainwright's hands.

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