Radclyffe Hall Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Radclyffe Hall launched her writing career in 1906 with a collection of verse, ’Twixt Earth and Stars. This well-received collection was followed by four more volumes of Hall’s poetry, which were published between 1908 and 1915. In 1907, Hall met Mabel Veronica Batten, an amateur singer and prominent socialite, who helped her set twenty-one of the eighty poems in’Twixt Earth and Stars to music. With encouragement from Batten, Hall published Sheaf of Verses in 1908. This volume included poems on lesbian sexuality, notably “Ode to Sappho” and “The Scar.”

Hall published three more volumes of verse: Poems of the Past and Present (1910), Songs of Three Counties, and Other Poems (1913), and The Forgotten Island (1915). The narrator in The Forgotten Island ruminates on her past life on the island of Lesbos and bemoans her fading love for another woman.

Aside from her collections of poetry, Hall published Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself, a collection of short stories, in 1934. The five stories in Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself mirror some of the author’s own inner conflicts. Its critical reception was disappointing. Her letters are collected in Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall (1997), edited by Joanne Glasgow.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although The Well of Loneliness is Radclyffe Hall’s best-known novel, she was awarded three prestigious literary prizes for another work, Adam’s Breed. This perceptive tale portrays Gian-Luca, a food server who becomes so disgusted with watching the gluttonous people he serves stuff themselves with rich food that he eschews food and eventually starves himself.

Adam’s Breed brought Hall the Eichelbergher Humane Award in 1926 for the best novel of the year, a prize that was followed in 1927 by the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize and shortly thereafter by the much-coveted James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Only once before in the history of these awards had a novel—E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924)—received both awards in the same year.

The celebrity Hall gained through the enthusiastic critical and popular reception of Adam’s Breed made the reading public clamor for more of her writing. She devoted October and November, 1927, to beginning her next work of long fiction with the working title “Stephen,” named for the novel’s protagonist. This novel, renamed The Well of Loneliness, appeared in 1928. In this book, Hall produced the first piece of long fiction in England to explicitly explore female homosexuality, a topic Hall touched on obliquely in her earlier work. Although most critics do not consider The Well of Loneliness Hall’s strongest novel, the notoriety that accompanied its publication established its author in feminist and lesbian and gay circles as a social and literary pioneer.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baker, Michael. Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall. New York: Morrow, 1985.

Castle, Terry. Noël Coward and Radclyffe Hall: Kindred Spirits. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Traces the friendship and mutual influence between the two writers.

Cline, Sally. Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1998. A sympathetic biography that looks beyond Hall’s notorious The Well of Loneliness to place the novel in the context of the writer’s complete career.

Doan, Laura, and Jay Prosser, eds. Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on “The Well of Loneliness.” New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Collects classic essays on Hall’s novel, exhibiting its changing critical reception and covering such topics as race, the nation at war, and melancholy.

Souhami, Diana. The Trials of Radclyffe Hall. New York: Doubleday, 1999. An absorbing and irreverent account of Hall’s life and work, with emphasis on the stormy reception of The Well of Loneliness and Hall’s long relationship with the artist Una Troubridge.

Troubridge, Lady Una. The Life of Radclyffe Hall. 1963. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1975. A biography by Hall’s longtime lover.