Radclyffe Hall Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 742 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Marguerite Radclyffe Hall was born on August 12, 1880, to Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall and Mary Jane Diehl Sager Radclyffe-Hall, an American expatriate from Philadelphia. Hall’s father had inherited a sizable legacy from his own father, a savvy businessman who turned his tuberculosis sanitarium into a highly profitable enterprise.

Hall’s father, not needing to work, left Mary Jane shortly after his daughter’s birth. Mary Jane divorced him and, in 1889, married Alberto Visetti, a voice instructor at the Royal College of Music in London. Mary Jane, hoping that her first child would be a boy, raised her daughter as a boy, often dressing her in male attire and referring to her as John, a name that Hall later adopted. As her writing progressed, Hall dropped her given name and published as Radclyffe Hall.

In her teenage years, Hall inherited a substantial fortune. She entered King’s College in London but left after two terms and spent the next year in Dresden, Germany. Returning to England in 1906, she bought a house in Malvern Wells, Worcestershire. In that year she published her first book of verse and met the socially prominent Mabel Veronica Batten, known as Ladye, a woman a generation older than Hall. Batten became her mentor and, in 1908, her lover.

Batten remained a major factor in Hall’s life until her death from a stroke in 1916. Hall had became infatuated with Batten’s niece, Una Vincenzo Troubridge, and began a sexual...

(The entire section is 602 words.)