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Hall, Radclyffe (1880-1943)  
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The last volume, The Forgotten Island, is much more complex, a series of poems detailing erotic desire, the culmination of passion, and nostalgia for passion spent, accompanied by a desire to leave "The Island" behind. The gender of the beloved is never specified, a common enough practice for much love poetry, gay or straight, but it is possible to read in the sequence a veiled poetic treatment of a fleeting affair with Phoebe Hoare in 1913-1914.

Hall's Novels Other than The Well of Loneliness

Hall's first published novel, The Forge (1924) is of specific interest in lesbian literature only because it provides a fictionalized portrait of the American artist Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney's lover of fifty years.

Similarly, A Saturday Life (1925) contains an interesting portrait of an older never-married woman, who produces desires in the protagonist Sidonie for a greater closeness, desires that she can never quite place or incorporate into her ever-changing ambitions.

Most of the other novels, Adam's Breed (1926), The Master of the House (1932), and The Sixth Beatitude (1936) share common concerns in Hall's fiction--the exploration of the lives of humble people and the search for spiritual unity and wholeness that transcend time, place, and circumstance. As the novelist once explained in a letter to Souline, she wrote about the poor and the outcast, the misfits as she called them, because she too shared some of their sufferings.

The search for transcendence and spiritual wholeness is also tied to her sexual identity, at least insofar as she sought spiritual solace in an unshakable belief that God made her and all other inverts as part of a whole plan of Nature. Thus, although neither overtly nor covertly lesbian, these novels are part of the entire fabric of Hall's life and of her thinking about that life.

She once told Souline that The Well of Loneliness summed up all she had to say about inversion. The Well, however, is only the last of the works dealing with inversion, though it is the only work to do so explicitly.

Hall's first completed novel (though the second to be published) was The Unlit Lamp, which many critics regard as her finest novel. The lesbian theme here is muted but nevertheless powerfully present.

Joan Ogden, a troubled adolescent misfit who realizes that she is not at all interested in young men or marriage, is trapped by parental needs and provincial aspirations, particularly her mother's emotional reliance on Joan. Her tutor, the singular, angular, intellectually powerful "New Woman," Elizabeth Rodney, encourages Joan to escape both her mother's needs and provincial conventionality by going to college and setting up shared housing together.

Joan ultimately lacks both the courage and means to carry through these plans and ends her days as a pinched, drawn, and defeated companion to an elderly relative, her life sacrificed to an entrapping mother and to her own lack of courage.

"Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself"

The short story "Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself," written in 1926, though not published until 1934, was for Hall an experiment that would lead to the writing of The Well. Miss Ogilvy is another misfit, a woman with no interest in conventional romance or marriage, but with a talent for managing the business of life, running an estate, making financial decisions of importance and potential risk, settling disputes, taking charge of situations and the people involved in them--all activities gendered as masculine in that time.

World War I gives Miss Ogilvy the opportunity to put these talents to patriotic use leading an ambulance corps on the front lines in France. After the war, she realizes she is more a misfit than ever.

She ends her days in a quasi-mystical search for herself, one whose ultimate discovery is an atavistic return to her primitive self as the competent defender of "his" island, and especially of "his" lover. The inner circle is completed; Miss Ogilvy "fits" though twentieth-century life is impossible for her. She is found dead the next morning.

This is by no means simply a bleak portrait nor a bleak assessment of lesbian possibility. It is not a portrait of a failed woman, nor of a failed invert, but rather of a failed culture, one that can accommodate its inverts only in times of national crisis without ever acknowledging their deepest, most primitive, and most natural sources. This is the theme that Hall took up again in her most famous novel The Well of Loneliness.

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