Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall (August 12, 1880 – October 7 1943) was a British novelist and poet, born Marguerite Radclyffe Hall in Bournemouth, Hampshire to a wealthy English father and an American mother.

Hall described herself as a “congenital introvert,” referring to an innate characteristic. She spent her twenties pursuing a variety of women, finding herself lonely as her contemporaries began to marry.

After falling in love with a married woman she met at a German spa, Hall converted to Christianity. Mabel Batten was twice Hall’s age; the two committed to each other once Batten’s husband passed away. In 1915, she fell in love with Batten’s cousin, Una Troubridge.

Within a year,Batten had passed away and Hall moved in with Troubridge. The two stayed together Hall’s death from colon cancer at the age of 63, though there were other love affairs along the way.

 

First successes, and a major literary prize

We now base much of Radclyffe Hall’s literary reputation on her best known and most controversial novel, The Well of Loneliness, but her earlier books enjoyed a slew of successes in the years just preceding its publication. Following, a story in an American publication called the Independent Record (February 4, 1927) announces her winning a major literary prize called the Femina Prize, and outlines some of her background:

“This year’s award of the famous Femina Vie Heureuse prize, which is given each year by the leading French women’s magazine to the woman author of the best English novel published during the past twelve months, is of special interest to Americans.

The winner, Miss Radclyffe Hall, whose novel, Adam’s Breed, was published by Doubleday, Page and Company in 1926, is half American. Her book was entered in competition with Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes and Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer.

Radclyffe Hall is the daughter of an English father and an American mother. While she has always made her home in England, she has spent much time in the U.S. Adam’s Breed, the novel which received this distinguished recognition in France, was her first to be published in America. It was her fourth to appear in England.

She received her first encouragement from the late William Heinemann, whose firm became her publishers. He was so interested in her early stories that he urged her to write a novel and promised to consider it for publication. Although he didn’t live to see his prophecy fulfilled, it was her wish to justify his faith in her. That kept her at work for three years on a first novel, The Unlit Lamp, which won her some reputation in London.

The tall, rather sever, exquisitely tailored Hall, with her hair cut close and brushed smoothly back from a face of almost Greek perfection in outline, looks anything but a sentimentalist. And her books will amply justify her appearance. But she confesses with amusement that at the tender age of three, she was a rank sentimentalist, bursting into lyrics before she knew how to spell.”

 

The Well of Loneliness

Hall’s most famous work, The Well of Loneliness (1928), features a lesbian from an upper class family in England. The main character, Stephen Gordon, lives in isolation with her partner Mary Llewellyn. They journey through a homosexual relationship during an era that rejected this expression of sexuality poses the setting and plot of the novel.

Receiving pushback from critics for her “sexually deviant” novel, Hall was swept into legal battles. Though at first widely banned, its notoriety helped bring the visibility of lesbians in Western literature to the forefront. Hall made it clear to her publisher that she wanted the original copy published, declaring:

“I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world … So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.”

Surprisingly, The Well of Loneliness received more liberal treatment in American courts than it did in England. Justices dismissed charges of violation of Section 1141 of the Penal Law against Covici-Freide, Inc., American publishers of the book. The Court said:

“The book in question deals with a delicate social problem, which in itself cannot be said to be in violation of the law unless it is written in such a manner as to make it obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, and tends to deprave and corrupt minds open to immoral influences.”

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Radclyffe Hall in a tux

Quotes by Radclyffe Hall
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Gender identity

Though Hall has long been described as a lesbian, it’s possible that she would have identified a trans man had the idea of doing so been possible in her time. She called herself “John,” often dressed as a man, and used masculine notions to self-describe.

Radclyffe Hall died of colon cancer in England at the age of 63, and is buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London.

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The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall 1928 - cover

Radclyffe Hall page on Amazon


More about Radclyffe Hall

On this site

Major Works

  • The Well of Loneliness
  • Adam’s Breed
  • The Unlit Lamp
  • A Saturday Life

Biographies

  • Trials of Radclyffe Hall by Diana Souhami
  • Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing by Richard Dellamora
  • Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall by Joanne Glasgow
  • Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John by Sally Cline
  • Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall by Joanne Glasgow
  • Radclyffe Hall at The Well of Loneliness: A Sapphic Chronicle by Lovat Dickson
  • Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall by Michael Baker
  • Noël Coward & Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits by Terry Castle

More Information

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Radclyffe Hall in a suit

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