Radclyffe-Hall and the Well of Loneliness
Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall, was born August 12th 1880 in Bournemouth, Hampshire. Though born in Bournemouth, Radyffe Hall spent their final moments in The Glebe Nursing Home in Barnet, Hertfordshire, which was established by Lady Carnarvon in 1941. Born into wealth, Radclyffe Hall was educated at King’s College London and after graduating, continued their studies in Germany. Their mother was an American named Mary Jane Diehl and their father was named Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall. The two had a tumultuous short-lived marriage and eventually divorced, due to Diehl’s supposed mental instability and Radclyffe-Hall’s womanising ways. Diehl then remarried to a professor of singing, which also wasn’t a perfect template for marital love for Radclyffe, who was largely ignored by both parents, but it meant that Radclyffe was financially supported to pursue education, writing and also their gender and sexuality.
Interestingly, Radclyffe-Hall has been described as a lesbian by many however, Hall identified as a ‘congenital invert’, which refers to an innate reversal within the body, such as a male soul within a female biological body. This could hint therefore to Radclyffe being a transgender man as Radclyffe-Hall referred to themselves as ‘John’ and also preferred the moniker Radclyffe-Hall rather than their feminine birth name, Marguerite. However, this may not be the case and they may have preferred to outwardly express their masculinity and felt comfortable living as a butch lesbian. Gender identity and expression were differently understood and so therefore it is difficult to label someone who didn’t necessarily want a label or to conform.
Radclyffe’s lesbian lovers heavily influenced their life. Radclyffe-Hall met Mabel Batten in 1907 when Radclyffe-Hall was 27 and Batten was 51, Batten already having a family of her own. Batten gave the nickname of ‘John’ to Radclyffe-Hall which they adopted until their death as a nickname. This relationship had a lasting impact on Hall as they surprisingly converted to Catholicism. This conversion was a trend named “The Oxford Movement”, where many creatives were converting to Catholicism, a religious movement originating within Oxford University. In 1915, Hall began a relationship with Batten’s cousin Una Troubridge who was a sculptor and even had a husband. They soon moved in together to Kensington, London and owned many pets, including the two famous dachshunds named Wotan and Thorgils. The two remained in a relationship together until Radclyffe-Hall died in 1947.
Radclyffe-Hall published their first collection of poetry in 1906 called Twixt Earth and Stars, and continued to publish their literary works and later won the Femina Prize for their novel Adam’s Breed. Radclyffe-Hall initially gained literary notoriety primarily for their first novels, such as The Unlit Lamp and The Forge, which were supported by William Heinmann, a man whose company later became her publisher. In 1928, the landmark piece of lesbian fiction, The Well of Loneliness was published. However, novels covering unorthodox topics, such as homosexuality, were seized quickly after publication under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857. This act proclaimed that the test for obscenity was the publication’s ability to corrupt younger minds. Consequently, this led to an obscenity trial which the prosecutors won as it was majorly agreed that the novel defended unnatural practices between two women. Although a small group of literary critics fought back against this ruling, the book was still banned. The US were slightly more lenient, with three judges ruling against the novel’s classification as ‘obscene’. Unfortunately, the novel didn’t begin to circulate into the wider public until after 1959, a deeply unfortunate occurrence as Radclyffe couldn’t see the widespread success that their novel and other works garnered. After the controversy of The Well of Loneliness, they began to slow their writings and published only a handful until their death.
In 1943, Radclyffe-Hall died of colon cancer in Barnet, a nursing home, which closed down the same year from financial stress, and is now a private residence. They were buried in Highgate Cemetery in the London Borough of Camden, in the same vault as Mabel Batten, and Una is also commemorated in the same vault.
Please note: I have decided to use they/them pronouns for Radclyffe Hall within this body of work as their preferences are unknown. Chicago referencing is also used within this work.
- Atlas, Nava. Banned and On Trial: Radclyffe Hall’s the Well of Loneliness.” Literary Ladies Guide. April 1st, 2015. Accessed September 4th 2023. “https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/literary-musings/radclyffe-halls-the-well-of-loneliness-banned-and-on-trial-for-obscenity/
- Atlas, Nava. “Radclyffe Hall, Author of the Well of Loneliness”. Literary Ladies Guide. August, 30th, 2019. Accessed September 4th, 2023. https://www.literaryladiesguide.com/author-biography/radclyffe-hall/
- Cherry, Kittredge. “Radclyffe Hall: Queer Christian themes mark banned book “Well of Loneliness”. August 12, 2023. Accessed September 5th, 2023. https://qspirit.net/radclyffe-hall-queer-christian/
- Historic England. “Graves and Monuments”. Historic England. Accessed September 4th, 2023. https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/lgbtq-heritage-project/love-and-intimacy/graves-and-monuments/#:~:text=Radclyffe%20Hall%2C%20author%20of%20the,Troubridge%20is%20also%20commemorated%20there.
- Lost Hospitals of London. “The Glebe Nursing Home”. Lost Hospitals of London. February, 2019. Accessed September 4th 2023, https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/glebenh.html