Gentleman Jack Recap: Season 1, Episode 2 ("I Just Went There to Study Anatomy")

This post continues my recapping of the TV show 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. (Note: Recaps will include spoilers for that episode.)

"I Just Went There to Study Anatomy" begins with Anne Lister popping in on Ann Walker for an impromptu visit. They talk about Ann's family for a bit, and then this exchange happens:
Ann Walker: I'm very fond of children but I'm not sure that I'd want to... [pauses, looks uncomfortable]

Anne Lister: What?

Ann: [whispers, slowly] Give birth.

Anne: No [looking appalled]. No, it's not something I've ever felt compelled to do. [pause] I dissected a baby once. 
It's somehow perfect, given what we know of the characters so far: Ann's prim modesty, barely allowing her to utter the phrase "give birth," followed up by Anne's forthright quirkiness.

Anne then goes on a monologue about her fascination with the human body, having informally studied anatomy in Paris with a scientist because she was barred from formal training at a university as a woman.

They then talk all afternoon. Near the end of the conversation, Anne breaks the fourth wall for, I believe, the first time, inviting us in on her plan to court Ann.
Anne: Good Lord, I have been here for hours. How did that happen? [briefly looks at camera, bites lip]

This look is followed by a later monologue to the audience, in which Anne says, "There's nothing wrong with [Ann]. At least, nothing that a little spice of matrimony won't cure. All she needs to do now is realize that the nature of what she feels for love."

A sub-plot is also developing in which Anne owns some land with coal in it and she finds out that her neighbors, the Rawson brothers, have been stealing it. One of the brothers is a fancy banker* and they plot to make Anne an offer on her coal before she sells it to someone else. They make her an offer, trying to low-ball her, assuming she's too dumb as a woman to know better. Yet, spoiler alert: she does know better, because she's done her research, and thus refuses to accept a low price for the coal.

[*Note: I'm not sure Rawson is a banker. In fact, after a re-watch, I think he's a magistrate. I think I initially thought he was a banker because he reminds me of the dad on Mary Poppins. Like, he even threw tuppence at some children while exiting a carriage and he surely thinks women's suffrage is a cute, silly notion.]

Later, Anne visits Henry, the little boy who fell off the stagecoach. While Anne is examining him, Henry asks her if she's a man. Here's her response:
"Well, that's a...question. And you are not the first person to ask it. [pause] I was in Paris once, dressed extremely well, I thought. In silk and ribbons, ringlets in my hair. Very gay. Very ladylike. And even then someone mistook me for a... So no, I'm not a man. I'm a lady. A woman. I'm a lady-woman. I'm a woman."
Here we see the usually-confident Anne flustered. It suggests that she continued to grapple with her identity well into adulthood, as she's in her 40s during this time period.

Then, Anne eats lunch with her family and goes on a somewhat snobby monologue (snobologue?) about how she wants to make improvements to Shibden Hall so that the land reflects well on the Lister family's "ancient lineage" and blah blah blah. Perhaps I'm imagining it, but Marian has the briefest moment of staring into the camera, letting us know that Ann is being pretentiously ridiculous about their family farm, LOL:

I like this actor, Gemma Whelan, so much.

Later, Anne visits Ann and finds out that Ann is going on vacation with a friend for three weeks. At this news, Anne starts panicking and then immediately asks Ann, "Would you like to go to Switzerland with me?" LOLOL what a lez. Take a breath, girl.

Anne then flirts(?) with Ann by telling her about pants with special pockets in them that allow men to engage in clandestine masturbation and then, while they both have images of boners dancing in the heads, Anne just goes all-in and tells Ann that she wants to kiss her and that she thinks Ann feels the same way. Whew! There's so much here.

This directness flusters Ann, and to be honest, respect, because it flusters me a little bit too. Anne Lister has some serious Bette Porter Energy (BPE). Of course, back in my day, my amazing flirting strategy was often admiring someone from afar and then immediately looking away whenever they looked at me, so, whew!

Nonetheless, the seed has been planted: Ann is coming to understand that it is possible for a woman to fall in love with a lady-woman. In fact, later when she's packing for her trip, her traveling companion warns her that "people say" Anne Lister "can't be trusted in the company of women." Here, the friend's intent seems to be to warn Ann, but this bit of news mostly seems to be titillating to Ann.

Finally, Anne decides to go to her former lover Vere's wedding. If you're wondering how she feels about attending, she shows up wearing black and absolutely refuses to turn this frown upside-down:

In the receiving line, she tells Vere that she hopes she and her husband will be happy together. Vere says that she's always been "fond" of Anne, but that she "just isn't like that." Mmm sure, Jan. Anyway, it's not entirely clear to me why Anne attended the wedding, but it seems like something she simply needed to do for closure. My unsolicited advice from the future: move on and focus on Ann Walker.

Bits and pieces: Regarding Anne breaking the fourth wall, this "cool character scheming in front of the audience to win a woman's heart" is the kind of thing I would most certainly detest in a male character, especially if he was trying to woo a character like Ann Walker. But, it delights me about Anne Lister. 

For one, I believe she genuinely loves women, viewing women as her peers, lovers, and companions, rather than as her subordinates to humiliate and degrade. In fact, she very clearly wants a wife, even though so many aspects of her culture tell her that such a wish is ridiculous.

Secondly, Ann Walker seems deeply lonely, unhappy, and not-completely-heterosexual as a woman in England's patriarchal society. Although both women have class and race-based privileges, their options in life remain limited and, from what we know of them thus far, neither would be happy married to a man. For Ann, Anne Lister is a path to a more exciting, less pre-ordained life, and she is clearly enamored already. Anne is not "tricking" Ann into falling in love with her, as I suspect a male character might try to do, so he could have access to her fortune and she could bear him heirs. Rather, it appears to be as Anne says: she's helping Ann realize that she's in love with a woman, as it might not have occurred to her that such a thing were possible or viable in life.

For me, I think, a key question is whether Anne reciprocates those feelings or if she's mostly after Ann's money. I hope it's the former, and I think it is. Or, it soon will be.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus