(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The initial drafts of The Unlit Lamp (then titled After Many Days) were rejected by several publishers as overlong and unexceptional. When Cassell brought out the still-lengthy novel in 1924, following Hall’s successful “lighter” novel, The Forge, the book sold well despite its overwhelmingly depressing nature and what reviewer Alec Waugh described as its only “adequate” treatment of an interesting subject. Like many first novels, The Unlit Lamp is based on its author’s life. It offers a forbidding projection of what the future might have held for young Marguerite Radclyffe Hall had she not rejected her mother’s domination and formulated a highly independent existence as “John,” the “invert” lesbian companion first of Lady Mabel Batten and then of Lady Una Troubridge.

Joan Ogden presents a distasteful feminized version of her author, “John”: The nominal similarity is indicative. Like Radclyffe Hall herself, Joan dislikes and resents her mother yet obliges every parental whim. Hall avoided her own unlikable mother after receiving an emancipatory inheritance from her idolized absentee father, yet she shouldered financial filial responsibilities until her mother’s death. Hall’s first serious lesbian relationship, with a sophisticated and cultured singer twenty years her elder, parallels the relationship between Joan and her mother to some degree: The Unlit Lamp was even dedicated “To Mabel Veronica Batten in deep affection, gratitude and respect.” After “Lady’s” untimely death, Hall and the romantic usurper Una Troubridge engaged in a strangely cultish deification of Hall’s late motherly lesbian mentor.

Joan’s connection with Mary Ogden, her biological mother, is constructed as a sort of abnormal Oedipal relationship far more perverse...

(The entire section is 754 words.)