Ann Walker: The Life and Death of Gentleman Jack's Wife
“The book seems hurried as if the author was rushing to be the first to publish a book about Walker.”
Anyone who is familiar with the BBC/HBO television series, Gentleman Jack, will be interested in this book. Little has been written about Ann Walker and Rebecca Batley’s book has been anxiously awaited by the GJ crowd.
Yet, before taking the leap to read it, take a step back because this is not the book it could have been.
For starters, the book is in desperate need of a good copy editor. One glaring error is properly and consistently identifying all references to the primary characters: Ann Walker and Anne Lister. There is often confusion about which Ann(e) the author is talking about because of misidentification. Granted there are many Ann(s) in this story, but it’s the author’s duty to ensure the names are correctly used and the potential for this mistake was foreseeable and required additional attention, which it obviously did not get. Using their last names is the obvious way to avoid the confusion.
The author realizes there is no way to tell Ann Walker’s story without Anne Lister and admits this in the Introduction. The interaction between Lister and Walker is the crux of the story. Without Anne Lister’s journals, Ann Walker would have disappeared without a trace. And people have become interested in Ann Walker because of her relationship with Anne Lister.
The author makes extensive reference to Anne Lister’s journals as a vehicle to tell Ann Walker’s story yet does not include direct quotes. And when there are quotes, it is often impossible to figure out the source because there is no link between citations and a particular quote.
Unlike Lister, there is little documentation available that is either written by Ann Walker or directly applies to her. That’s one reason it would have been helpful to include specific quotes and direct citations to the journal pages. That would enhance the text and establish more robust evidence of the author’s scholarship and research.
Ann Walker kept a diary, albeit for a brief period of time, but there are no extracts from that work in the book. The diary was found, quite by accident, within other documents located at the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Halifax. No one knew it existed, so the discovery was remarkable.
While Batley uses Lister’s journals and Anne Choma’s book, Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister, to flesh out her subject, she fails to use the well-documented research found on the In Search for Ann Walker website. This is puzzling because Batley references the website but does not incorporate any of that research into this book.
The author refers to people by a first name, without providing any explanation or background of the person. In some cases, the name used does not correlate to anyone, which creates more confusion and causes one to fumble through the book looking for more information.
There is a haphazard feel to the text with statements on one-page contradicting others on the next. Again, the editor, if there was one, did the author a disservice by not examining the book more closely.
Statements of fact are made without providing the source material or a citation. This is not what readers expect in a biography. There is considerable opinion and supposition included in the text and, while that is understandable to some extent, the lack of a foundation for the comments and opinion leads one to question the accuracy of what is written.
On top of everything, there is no index, which is perplexing at best and inexcusable at worst for a biography. It is impossible to find any specific references to particular events or people.
Granted anyone writing about Ann Walker is at a disadvantage because so little is known about her, other than what can be gleaned from Lister’s journals or legal documents. There are no photos, paintings, or drawings of Walker, and only limited physical descriptions, so no one knows what she looked like. There are records documenting her mental health issues and the lunacy hearing, and Batley covers this part of Walker’s life well. But that comprises the first, very short chapter, and part of the Epilogue. It’s hardly sufficient for a 200+ page biography.
The book seems hurried as if the author was rushing to be the first to publish a book about Walker. The book is not well-written, and the research is not properly or extensively documented. Including a laundry list of footnotes, without context or specifics does a reader a disservice.
The effort writers put into their work is extensive, and it is unfortunate that this book is such a disappointment. That disappointment is exacerbated by the excitement its publication generated among people who crave to know more about Ann Walker, her life, and her relationship with Anne Lister. Certainly Ann Walker deserved better.