Hall c. 1930
|Born||Marguerite Radclyffe Hall|
12 August 1880
Durley Road, Bournemouth, Hampshire, England
|Died||7 October 1943 (aged 63)|
|Occupation||Novelist, poet, short story writer|
Marguerite Radclyffe Hall (12 August 1880 - 7 October 1943) was an English poet and author. She is best known for the novel The Well of Loneliness, a groundbreaking work in lesbian literature. In adulthood she often went by the name John, rather than Marguerite.
Marguerite Radclyffe Hall was born in 1880 at "Sunny Lawn", Durley Road, Bournemouth, Hampshire (now Dorset), to a wealthy philandering father, Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall, and an unstable mother, Mary Jane Diehl. Her stepfather was the professor of singing Albert Visetti, whom she did not like and who had a tempestuous relationship with her mother. Hall was a lesbian but described herself as a "congenital invert", a term taken from the writings of Havelock Ellis and other turn-of-the-century sexologists. Having reached adulthood without a vocation, she spent much of her twenties pursuing women she eventually lost to marriage.
In 1907 at the Bad Homburg spa in Germany, Hall met Mabel Batten, a well-known amateur singer of lieder. Batten (nicknamed "Ladye") was 51 to Hall's 27, and was married with an adult daughter and grandchildren. They fell in love and, after Batten's husband died, they set up residence together. Batten gave Hall the nickname "John" after noting her resemblance to one of Hall's male ancestors, and she used this name for the rest of her life.
In 1915, Hall fell in love with Batten's cousin Una Troubridge (1887-1963), a sculptor who was the wife of Vice-Admiral Ernest Troubridge and the mother of a young daughter. When Batten died in 1916, Hall had Batten's corpse embalmed and a silver crucifix blessed by the pope laid on it. Hall, Batten and Troubridge were "undeterred by the Church's admonitions on same-sex relationships. Hall's Catholicism sat beside a life-long attachment to spiritualism and reincarnation." In 1917, Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge began living together. From 1924 to 1929 they lived at 37 Holland Street, Kensington, London. The relationship lasted until Hall's death.
In 1934, Hall fell in love with Russian émigrée Evguenia Souline and embarked upon a long-term affair with her, which Troubridge painfully tolerated. Hall became involved in affairs with other women throughout the years.
In 1930, Hall received the Gold Medal of the Eichelbergher Humane Award. She was a member of the PEN club, the council of the Society for Psychical Research and a fellow of the Zoological Society. Hall was listed at No. 16 in the top 500 lesbian and gay heroes in The Pink Paper.
Hall died at age 63 of colon cancer, and is interred at Highgate Cemetery in North London at the entrance of the chamber of the Batten family, where Mabel is buried as well.
Hall's first novel was The Unlit Lamp, the story of Joan Ogden, a young girl who dreams of setting up a flat in London with her friend Elizabeth (a so-called Boston marriage) and studying to become a doctor, but feels trapped by her manipulative mother's emotional dependence on her. Its length and grimness made it a difficult book to sell, so she deliberately chose a lighter theme for her next novel, a social comedy entitled The Forge. While she had used her full name for her early poetry collections, she shortened it to M. Radclyffe Hall for The Forge. The book was a modest success, making the bestseller list of John O'London's Weekly.The Unlit Lamp, which followed it into print, was the first of her books to give the author's name simply as Radclyffe Hall.
There followed another comic novel, A Saturday Life (1925), and then Adam's Breed (1926), a novel about an Italian headwaiter who, becoming disgusted with his job and even with food itself, gives away his belongings and lives as a hermit in the forest. The book's mystical themes have been compared to Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. It sold well, was critically acclaimed, and won both the Prix Femina and the James Tait Black Prize, a feat previously achieved only by E. M. Forster's A Passage to India.
Hall's best-known work was The Well of Loneliness, the only one of her eight novels to have overt lesbian themes. Published in 1928, The Well of Loneliness deals with the life of Stephen Gordon, a masculine lesbian who, like Hall herself, identifies as an "invert".
Although The Well of Loneliness is not sexually explicit, it was nevertheless the subject of an obscenity trial in the UK, which resulted in all copies of the novel being ordered destroyed. The United States allowed its publication only after a long court battle. It is currently published in the UK by Virago, and by Anchor Press in the United States. The Well of Loneliness was number seven on a list of the top 100 lesbian and gay novels compiled by The Publishing Triangle in 1999.
An anonymous verse lampoon titled The Sink of Solitude appeared during the controversy over The Well. Although its primary targets were James Douglas, who had called for The Wells suppression, and the Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks, who had started legal proceedings, it also mocked Hall and her book. One of the illustrations, which depicted Hall nailed to a cross, so horrified her that she could barely speak of it for years afterward. Her sense of guilt at being depicted in a drawing that she saw as blasphemous led to her choice of a religious subject for her next novel The Master of the House.
At Hall's insistence, The Master of the House was published with no cover blurb, which may have misled some purchasers into thinking it was another novel about "inversion". Advance sales were strong, and the book made No. 1 on The Observers bestseller list, but it received poor reviews in several key periodicals, and sales soon dropped off. In the United States reviewers treated the book more kindly, but shortly after the book's publication, all copies were seized - not by the police, but by creditors; Hall's American publisher had gone bankrupt. Houghton Mifflin took over the rights, but by the time the book could be republished, its sales momentum was lost.
British composer and bon vivant Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, wrote a roman à clef titled The Girls of Radcliff Hall, in which he depicts himself and his circle of friends, including Cecil Beaton and Oliver Messel, as lesbian schoolgirls at a school named Radcliff Hall. The novel was written under the pseudonym Adela Quebec and published and distributed privately; the indiscretions to which it alluded created an uproar among Berners's intimates and acquaintances, making the whole affair highly discussed in the 1930s. Cecil Beaton attempted to have all the copies destroyed. The book subsequently disappeared from circulation, making it extremely rare. The story is, however, included in Berners' Collected Tales and Fantasies.