Themes and Meanings

Radclyffe Hall believed, along with Henry Havelock Ellis, and others of her time, that “sexual inversion” was a congenital condition and a kind of biological tragedy. A lesbian herself, Hall wished to make explicit in her art the frustrations of the congenital invert. She believed that what cannot be helped cannot be censured; thus, her works argue for sympathy, rather than persecution, for those who are different. “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself,” like Hall’s more famous novel The Well of Loneliness (1928), is an exploration of the psyche of a woman who wishes to be conventional but whose masculine nature makes such an accommodation impossible.

“Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself” has attracted criticism in the twentieth century because of its somewhat antiquated view of homosexuality, yet it was an unusually courageous and explicit work for its time. The reader should not overlook that the protagonist, Miss Ogilvy, is presented in a strikingly favorable light in comparison to her self-indulgent and conventional sisters and her painfully dependent mother. In situations in which her true nature can manifest itself, for example, in managing her estate or serving in the ambulance corp, Miss Ogilvy is decidedly admirable. It is only in her thwarted personal life that she experiences pain and confusion, which Hall attempts to elucidate for the reader through her own version of the allegory of the cave.