Marguerite Radclyffe Hall’s literary career can be easily divided into two distinct periods. During its first decade, she wrote nothing but the lyrical poetry that several prominent composers set to music. When she turned to fiction, she soon became a prizewinning novelist and then one of the first proponents of “sexual inversion,” as she termed her own lesbianism and that of her characters.
The early life of Radclyffe Hall paralleled that of Stephen Gordon, the protagonist of her novel The Well of Loneliness. The daughter of Radclyffe and Mary Jane Radclyffe-Hall, Hall spent her childhood on her father’s country estate. Her father’s death left her a large inheritance on her seventeenth birthday. She remained, however, under the guardianship of her unstable mother and Italian stepfather, both of whom apparently abused her physically and emotionally. Educated at King’s College, London, and in Germany, Hall turned naturally to writing as a career (she wrote her first poem when she was three). In spite of her “sexual inversion,” her later personal life was happy. She and Lady Una Troubridge, who called her “John,” lived together for thirty years until Hall’s death from cancer in 1943.
Hall first turned to fiction, at the suggestion of her publisher, with an innocuous social comedy, The Forge. Her second novel, The Unlit Lamp, details the triangular relationship of mother, daughter, and governess, hinting at unconscious incestuous feelings on the part of the mother and at an unconsummated lesbian relationship between the daughter and governess. This novel was followed by the bleak but prizewinning Adam’s Breed, the story of a sensitive headwaiter, which established Hall’s reputation.
The Well of Loneliness is the...
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