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Hall, Radclyffe (1880-1943)  
 
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Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, is best known for The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.

Born Marguerite Radclyffe Hall, John, as she preferred to be known except as an author, was the miserably unhappy child of a miserably unhappy and very brief marriage. Her mother Marie Diehl, an American widow, married the extravagant and roaming Radclyffe Radclyffe Hall, grandson of a wealthy and knighted Lancashire physician. Unsuited to the demands of domestic life, he left his new wife months before John was born.

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John was, thus, from infancy in the care of a mother desperate to redress her grievances and to mold her daughter into an asset to recoup her fortunes. With no formal schooling and a restlessness that was to remain throughout her life, John developed an interest in the piano, at which she would compose lyrics and music (later collected in five volumes of poetry), and in horses, riding, and motor cars, all the while pursuing attachments to girls and young women, none of which suited her socially ambitious mother.

At age twenty-one, Hall inherited $10,000,000 (in 1993 dollars) from her paternal grandfather and left the stifling confines of her home. She began her lifelong travel to France and Italy and, at age twenty-eight, met Mabel Veronica Batten, "Ladye," with whom she lived, at first with Ladye's husband as well, until Ladye's death in 1915.

Under Ladye's influence, Hall converted to Catholicism with a wholeheartedness that was to last all of her life and to color much of her life and writing. Ladye was instrumental in developing Hall's writing talents, through encouraging her first to publish her poetry and later to write fiction. Through Ladye, Hall also met Ladye's cousin, Una Lady Troubridge, the young wife of the aging Admiral Ernest Troubridge.

Shortly before Ladye's death in 1915, Hall and Una became lovers, a lifelong commitment for both women. Hall spent the next thirteen years writing, publishing four novels, three of them highly successful in commercial and critical terms.

She and Una socialized with many of the literary and lesbian notables in London and Paris, while living in Mayfair and vacationing for long periods in France and Italy.

She also spent long serious hours studying psychic phenomena, joining and writing for the Society for Psychical Research, and devouring all she could find about the current scientific explorations of lesbianism, or inversion, as same-sex erotic desire was then called.

In 1928, Hall published The Well of Loneliness, the novel for which she is best known. The next six years were less productive. She published only one novel and one collection of short stories.

In 1934, Hall met Evguenia Souline, a thirty-year-old White Russian émigré without citizenship, who was to become her lover and in some senses her tormentor, as well as Una's. The relationship was stormy and ultimately destructive to Hall's health and to her work (she published only one more novel).

In 1938, Hall and Una made plans to live permanently in Florence, Italy, only to have those plans disrupted by World War II. Beset by physical problems, Hall retired with Una to Devon, having obtained Souline's admission into England. The relationship with Souline deteriorated, while Hall's health was too poor to permit writing. She died in London of stomach cancer on October 7, 1943, and is buried with Ladye in Highgate Cemetery, London.

Hall lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, convinced that her inversion was "congenital," to use the categories of her mentor Havelock Ellis. In her forties, she began to dress in a style appropriate to her self-identification with "the third sex." She was instantly recognizable by her close-cropped hair, tailored jackets, flamboyant shirts and blouses, wide-brimmed hats, and often stocks and ties.

She and Troubridge were important figures in the lesbian circles of London, Rye, and Paris. But her importance to lesbian literature lies primarily in her most famous book The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel of the twentieth century.

Ironically, Hall never set out to be a consciously identified lesbian writer. All but four of her published works have no lesbian content, however disguised and covert, and of these four only The Well is explicitly lesbian.

Hall's Poetry

Her earliest works are the five volumes of poetry published between 1906 and 1915. Most of the poems are highly derivative Edwardian nature verses, with only an occasional love poem hinting at ambiguous erotic attraction.

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